CHICAGO -- Their names get rattled off first. Their jerseys are represented throughout the United Center. They get paid the most and have been locked into long-term contracts.
There’s no mistaking which players are considered the Chicago Blackhawks' stars. There are plenty of reasons for that, but chief among them is that they prove themselves at this time of year. They produce and they win.
This season has been no different. The Blackhawks eliminated the Nashville Predators in six games in the first round and are out to a 2-0 series lead on the Minnesota Wild in the second largely because their best players have played like their best players.
The evidence for that can be found in the playoff points leaders. The Blackhawks’ leaders are Duncan Keith with 10 points, Patrick Kane with 10 points, Jonathan Toews with nine points, Patrick Sharp with eight points and Marian Hossa with seven points. The five players have combined for 44 points while the rest of the team has 29. All five players also fall among the NHL's top 15 playoff points leaders.
When they’re all clicking like that, it makes Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s job easier.
“I think they’ve been good,” Quenneville said after the Blackhawks’ 4-1 victory over the Wild on Sunday in Game 2. “Consistently game in, game out, they’ve been our best players, leading the charge, consistently playing the right way, making their lines or the linemates better. But that’s how you have success as a team when your leaders and best players lead the charge.”
Those five players also have a history of doing that, especially on the offensive side, for the Blackhawks. Hossa has compiled 44 assists and 58 points in 81 playoff games for Chicago. Keith has 50 assists and 64 points in 101 games. Sharp has 41 goals and 73 points in 102 games. Toews has 57 assists and 90 points in 102 games. Kane has 42 goals, 59 assists and 101 points in 101 games.
“I think that’s been the key to the success the last six or seven years,” Sharp said. “You got a bunch of guys who want the puck on their stick in key situations and want to be the guy to score that goal.”
Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk is fully aware who these guys are as well, and they got the better of him in Game 2. Hossa and Toews connected for the first goal, Keith and Kane for the second, and Sharp scored the third.
“If you look at the guys who contributed there, those are their guys,” Dubnyk said after Game 2. “Those are the guys that are dangerous when they get opportunities -- and I wasn’t able to come up with the save on one of them and they made a couple of pretty good shots.”
Kane gladly accepted the team’s championship belt for being the player of game Sunday, and does consider himself a big-game player, but he believes there is an appropriate time to reflect on one's playoff achievements. That time hasn’t yet arrived.
“We all have a lot of experience,” Kane said. “We’ve been in these situations before. It’s good to have your top players step up and score some big goals. We’ll take some pride in that down the road. I think it’s one of those things you wipe the slate clean after every game and try to bring your best effort, if not even better, into your next one.”