PITTSBURGH — Even though he had no points in his first nine games with the Blackhawks, Tomas Jurco never doubted his place in the team’s plans.
“I wasn’t worried,” he said. “I mean, they traded for me, so I think they saw something in me.”
They saw something Monday night in Tampa, Florida, when Jurco — known for his skill more than his tenacity — drew a penalty and later scored a goal on high-effort plays. His hard charge through two Lightning defenders in the slot earned the Hawks a power play, and shortly afterward, Jurco beat out star defenseman Victor Hedman to a loose puck in front and chipped it in for his first goal with the Hawks and his first of the season.
Jurco hopes that greasy goal greases the skids.
“It was big for me to score a goal,” he said. “All year, I’ve been hitting posts and getting bad bounces. I finally had a good bounce and it went in. I’m going to try to build off it and just keep going the same way.”
The strong effort earned Jurco another game, Wednesday against Pittsburgh. He’s battling Andrew Desjardins, Jordin Tootoo, Dennis Rasmussen and rookie John Hayden for those final two spots in the lineup come playoff time, so every game is an audition. And every good audition earns you another chance.
“Every game I play, I try to do my best,” Jurco said. “But obviously, the more I play, the better I feel, the more confidence I have. I needed some time to get better, and I feel like it’s coming. I’m close to where I want to be.”
Jonathan Toews often extols the virtues of the confidence-boost that comes with even scoring just one goal, and said Jurco could take off from here. Coach Joel Quenneville is hoping for the same.
“Hopefully, that gets him more comfortable,” Quenneville said. “That’s a hurdle that can be in the back of your ind a lot, and all of a sudden it ould be a nice release. We’re looking for progression, and we saw it [Monday] night.”
Ryan Hartman got the message loud and clear. After being scratched Monday night for taking a foolish unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for mouthing off to an official, Hartman was back in the lineup.
“Everyone wants to play games, and no one likes to sit out games,” Hartman said. “It’s definitely something I took to heart. I’m just going to go out there and try to play like I’ve been playing, and get on the scoresheet — just stay off it for the wrong reasons.”
Hartman has 66 penalty minutes in his last 46 games, after taking just two in his first 24. Quenneville pulled Hartman aside following the morning skate in Tampa and told him what he expects from now. Hartman said Quenneville kept it positive, telling him when he’d be back in the lineup and to be ready.
“I’m excited to be back,” Hartman said.
The Metropolitan Division is learning this year what the Central Division has known for years — the NHL’s divisional playoff format isn’t always fair. Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh are the top three teams in the league, but at most one will be left standing after two rounds of the playoffs. As it stands now, the Blue Jackets and Penguins would meet in the first round.
Last year, the Hawks had the fifth-best record in the league, and lost to the third-ranked Blues in the first round. But Quenneville said he’s fine with the current system.
“No sense in complaining about it,” Quenneville said. “You deal with it.”
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