As young core develops, Blackhawks still count on crew that won Stanley Cups

Someday this team will belong to the upstarts, but it still runs through Toews, Keith, Kane and Crawford for now.

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Keith and Toews are still leading the fight for the Hawks.

AP Photos

SUNRISE, Fla. — A blossoming core of young players will decide the Blackhawks’ future, but for now, this team’s success hinges on the icons who led their decade of dominance.

It’s the strangest part about watching the Hawks these days: You can still go see the legends from their championship teams, but instead of chasing Stanley Cups they’re exhausting themselves in the improbable pursuit of the last playoff seed.

Regardless of how little chance they have of making this happen, their old guard is adamant about giving it a shot. And based on how old-timers Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and Duncan Keith played in played in the shootout win over the Panthers on Saturday, they mean what they say.

“They’re pushing,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “They want to win as bad as anyone. The peer pressure in the group is important; they’re not going to let anyone off the hook. I think that filters through to everyone.”

That accountability is key for what Colliton wants to establish. It’s too early to know whether the talent of Dominik Kubalik, Adam Boqvist, Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander will rise to the level of their star teammates, but there’s no doubt they’ll get a proper education.

In the final minutes of a prolonged game against the Panthers, Crawford withstood shot after shot —Florida had a 33-6 advantage in shots on goal after the Hawks took a 2-1 lead early in the second period— to keep the game alive. He saved 38 of 40 shots, and both Florida goals came on scoring chances that left him in highly unfavorable positions.

Crawford, a 35-year-old that many thought would’ve retired by now, will likely be the everyday starter for as long as Colliton believes the Hawks have a chance at the playoffs.

Keith spared Crawford from another dicey situation near the end of overtime as he derailed a two-on-one at the net by laying out on the ice, an impressive play by a 15-year veteran in his game-high 27th minute. That was the least Keith played on the four-game road trip, by the way.

“That’s kind of nice that he’s willing to lay out and block a shot for once,” Crawford snickered. “If you watch the games every night, there’s a lot of plays that he makes that go unnoticed. He does everything out there.”

Toews was equally relentless at both ends of the rink and scored his 17th goal of the season on a deflection.

Kane played 23 minutes, and he and Toews scored on their first attempts to clinch the shootout. Kane’s 21:19 average ice time is seventh among forwards, and everyone else in the top 10 is at least five years younger than him.

”Our guys that have been around for a while found that enthusiasm again,” Toews said. “You can spread that credit around to the young guys and some of the veterans guys ... Guys come here knowing that this team has a history of winning, and that’s been the culture in our locker room.

“Sometimes for us, it’s just a matter of hitting that reset button and trying to find that within ourselves.”

If that establishes the mentality of the next wave, it’s worth something to the Hawks even if it doesn’t get them to the playoffs this season.

In a perfect world, of course, the upstarts would develop quickly enough and the stalwarts would hang on long enough that the two generations would blend into a contender.
That’s the puzzle that general manager Stan Bowman hasn’t been able to piece together, but Toews and Co. are doing everything they can to buy time.

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