It’s your move: Quenneville ready to split up Toews-Kane to give Hawks a spark

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Patrick Kane (left) and Jonathan Toews have been stymied in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final. | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning have bottled up Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final. The next move is Joel Quenneville’s.

That’s not a bad spot to be in. Quenneville has an enviable record of pushing the right buttons in the playoffs — especially when it comes to trying to uncork the firepower of Toews and Kane.

“It seems like he knows what he’s doing behind the bench,” Kane said. “When he breaks us up or puts us together it seems to be the right call and the right time. We adjust on the go.”

Kane knows this from experience. In the 2010 Final against Philadelphia, the Hawks were struggling to escape the clutches of Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, who was a plus-7 in the first four games of that series, which was tied 2-2. Quenneville split up his top line of Toews, Kane and Dustin Byfuglien for Game 5, making it more difficult for Pronger to defend all of them and it worked like magic. The Hawks won 7-4 and a frustrated Pronger was a minus-5.

It worked the opposite way in the 2013 Final against Boston. Kane and Toews were unproductive on separate lines in Games 1-3 (a combined one assist and minus-1). With the Hawks down 2-1 in the series, Quenneville put them together in Game 4 and again struck gold. Toews and Kane combined for five goals, four assists and a plus-9 in the final three games — while Bruins star defenseman Zdeno Chara was a minus-6 —as the Hawks won the series in six games.

It’s that time again in this year’s Final —perhaps a game early —against the Lightning, who have contained Toews and de-fused Kane. Toews has one point in two games. Kane is scoreless and did not even get a shot on goal in Game 2 —the first time that’s happened since 2009 against the Red Wings, when he was 20.

So against an up-and-coming team that can become exponentially more dangerous with a road victory on the NHL’s biggest stage, Quenneville sounds ready to make the move for Game 3 on Monday at the United Center —splitting up Kane and Toews to make it tougher for Victor Hedman (in the Pronger role) and the Lightning defense to contain both of them.

“I think that line’s had some decent looks,” Quenneville said of the Kane, Toews and Brandon Saad. “They’ve had some zone time. They’ve had some rush chances. They’ve made them defend.

“But [the Lightning’s] defense and their team defense is aggressive and not a lot of room and time and I think maybe changing those two guys on different lines give us a little bit more depth and more balance. We’ll see how they can defend them.”

Quenneville has other decisions to make. Inserting Bryan Bickell, who has not played in the first two games, is an option that in theory helps give Kane the “time and space” he needs to do what he does best. But Quenneville did not sound too keen on that proposition.

“We’ll see on that,” he said. “But certainly splitting those two up gives you a little bit more freedom, whether it’s room or something for [the Lightning] to be concerned with. It adds a little bit more balance to our offense, which is why we usually keep them apart and we’ll see how that progresses.

“They do like playing with each other and it enhances the offense when they are together. But the balance is something we’ll look at.”

Whether it’s a byproduct of playing with Bickell or without Toews, Quenneville knows Kane needs to have the puck more than he has in this series. Kane had only three shot attempts in Game 2 and none on goal —a rarity for him. The last time Kane did not have a shot-on-goal in a playoff game was in 2009 —Game 1 of the Western Conference final against the Red Wings. That’s 100 playoff games ago, when Kane was 20.

“Kaner’s at his most effective when he has the puck and he wants the puck. He can do a lot of good things with it,” Quenneville said. “That’s why a lot of times [Kane and Toews] are not together. But I find he plays his best hockey the more he gets the puck. He does a good job himself of getting it and his line mates getting it to him is part of that. But he’s a much better player with the puck.”

Quenneville’s touch isn’t perfect — one series ago he benched Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette in Game 3 against the Ducks. But the beauty of moving Kane and Toews is that it’s never a chemistry issue. Quenneville just lights the fuse and waits for the reaction.

“You’re always open to new possibilities because you know you can go out and create some offense,” Toews said. “There’s a lot of upside regardless of who you’re playing with. When they throw Hossa back on my line with Sodder and myself, we feel comfortable —especially when we know we have to play smart, two-way hockey.

“Regardless of what Joel decides to do, we’ll be ready for the opportunity of trying to mix things up a bit.”

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