As unheralded Preds score, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane struggle

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Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews tries to get a shot off under pressure from Predators forward Ryan Johansen (92) in the Hawks 5-0 loss in Game 2 of their first-round series. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Whether it was out of frustration or desperation, it looked like Patrick Kane picked an odd time to lose his cool Saturday night.

In the aftermath of a scrum in front of the Blackhawks’ net with 1:27 left in the second period, Kane cross-checked Predators forward Harry Zolnierczyk for an obvious penalty that robbed the Hawks of precious time they needed.

“I was just trying to protect myself — get my stick up. I didn’t mean to cross-check him,” Kane said. “I’m not really sure if I even did, or what happened. I guess I connected. It’s going to be a two-minute penalty every time. Not really frustration. You know they’re going to come at you, so I was just trying to protect myself.”

Inadvertent or not, the defending Hart Trophy winner’s getting tough with a player nobody in the United Center crowd knew existed until Saturday night pretty much illustrated the Hawks’ unfamiliar plight after a 5-0 loss to the Predators put them in a 2-0 hole in their first-round series. The Preds’ unheralded players are making a difference. The Hawks’ stars are not.

To wit: Zolnierczyk, defenseman Ryan Ellis and forwards Colton Sissons and Kevin Fiala, who came into Game 2 with zero career playoff goals, combined for four against the Hawks in the game. Kane and Jonathan Toews, who have a combined 88 playoff goals, scored none. Again.

Toews and Kane weren’t the only culprits in Game 2. This was another top-to-bottom failure, with only Corey Crawford absolved. But it starts at the top, and on the ice it’s Kane and Toews who are charged with making a difference when times are tough.

“We’ve got to make some adjustments, down 2-0,” Kane said. “I haven’t scored a goal in two games — not acceptable. As an offensive guy, you pride yourself on that. I’ve got to be better.”

Their inability to make an impact when the Hawks need them most is adding up. Toews has not scored a goal in his last 11 playoff games and only once in 15 postseason games since the Hawks beat the Ducks in the Western Conference final in 2015. Kane has scored one goal in his last nine playoff games and only two in his last 15.

To their credit, Kane and Toews took the heat after a dismal team performance put the Hawks in an unusual bind. They were front and center, answering the difficult questions directly and without a hint of frustration. That might be the Hawks’ best hope at this point. Players like Kane and Toews are cool customers who won’t be suffocated by the pressure of the moment or the difficulty of the task ahead. If everyone else follows their lead, there’s always a chance.

“You try to block out all that noise,” Kane said. “You just want to play the right way. Whether you’ve had a good game or bad game, wipe the slate clean and come back next game and see what you can improve on. Play with confidence, try to make plays, try to create scoring chances more than I have in the first two games.”

Toews knows the pressure is on him.

“For sure. It always is,” he said. “But everyone in this room will take it upon themselves to try to make a difference and try to get our team going.”

So now what? Toews will do the only thing he can do at this point — stay positive and keep playing hard.

“It’d be nice to get one of those bounces,” he said, “and I think when we do, it’s going to give our team a lot of energy and hopefully the floodgates will open.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.



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