CHICAGO -- Take a look at the stat line for the Chicago Blackhawks' two biggest stars this Stanley Cup finals, and it is surprisingly modest.
Chicago’s Patrick Kane has been held off the score sheet all three games. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has registered just a single point -- an assist in a Game 2 loss on Saturday night. Neither have scored a goal.
Both were active in trying to generate offense in the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss Monday in Game 3 to the Tampa Bay Lightning -- they combined for seven shots on goal -- but their inability to find the back of the net through the first trio of games in the finals is at least a factor in the Hawks staring at a 2-1 series deficit heading into Game 4.
And keep in mind this is against Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, whom even the Blackhawks admitted was noticeably laboring Monday night.
“Of course we can see that, but he’s fighting just like anyone else in this series,” Toews said after Game 3. “Doesn’t mean he is not going to stop working and making sure he is stopping pucks. He made some huge saves. We had a couple of empty nets earlier in the game that somehow ricocheted and bounce the wrong way. It is what it is.”
“We’ve run into really good goaltenders in important series in the past and we just chip away and keep working and, eventually, we always find ways to open the floodgates a little bit, so that is what we have to focus on,” Toews said.
On Sunday, one day before Game 3, Kane had hoped that was on the near horizon, a breakout performance. Not often are players asked about scoring “slumps” after just two games, but there he was answering questions on the very topic after being held without a single shot on goal in Game 2.
“Yeah, I mean, as an offensive guy, you want to be helping produce, especially at this time of year,” Kane said. “But, you know, we said all along with our team, we don't really care where the goals come from, as long as they're coming from our team.”
Both Kane’s line and Toews’ line produced Monday night. Veteran center Brad Richards tallied a power-play goal in the first, Brandon Saad notched his seventh of the playoffs in the third, and Marian Hossa probably should have had one too. He faked a shot, cut to the middle, and missed on a wide-open net as he was tripped in the first period.
That one goal could’ve been the difference. And then no one would be talking about Kane and Toews not scoring.
“I don’t think they’re struggling,” Hossa said. “Those two can always just score goals. [They are] creating so much room for other players. But we’ve got so many guys that can put the puck in the net, we just have to regroup here and get even better the next game.”
Looking at the Lighting by comparison, their captain’s scoring drought is not nearly as significant a topic of conversation. Though phenom Steven Stamkos has been held without a point in the first three games, the Lightning have found other bourgeoning stars and depth players to step up when needed.
The "Triplets" line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov has helped immensely throughout Stamkos’ dry spells this postseason. The Lightning’s checking line was the difference-maker in Game 3 -- with goals from spark plug Ryan Callahan and shutdown center Cedric Paquette.
“You look at the guys that stepped up tonight, you look at [Callahan], you look at [J.T. Brown], you look at [Paquette], those are the guys that are finally being rewarded for how hard they’re working,” Stamkos said. “This team isn’t a one-trick pony. We have guys that step up when needed.”