Jonathan Toews injured; Blackhawks fall to Penguins
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter March 30, 2014 9:10PM
Updated: March 31, 2014 1:24PM
PITTSBURGH — As he lay crumpled on the ice following a devastating hit by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, Jonathan Toews uttered something apparently unprintable, got to his feet and skated off to the bench, clutching his left arm with his right. He sat on the bench, hunched over in pain a couple of times, then got up again and left for the dressing room.
The question now is, when will he come back?
Already without one of the top offensive players in the world in Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks might have lost one of the most irreplaceable players in the world, too. Toews left the Hawks’ 4-1 loss to the Penguins with about 6:30 left in the second period, and didn’t return.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville deemed him “day to day,” but said he’d know more on Monday.
“I don’t think it’s serious,” he said.
But even if Toews misses a short amount of time, his absence would be another blow to a team already staggering down the stretch. With less than two weeks until the end of the regular season, the Hawks just completed an 0-3 road trip, have lost four of five, and have slipped to third in the Central Division — on the wrong side of home-ice advantage for a likely first-round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche.
The Penguins scored three goals on defensive lapses by the Hawks, two of them on two-on-one breaks. Sidney Crosby scored twice for the Penguins, including an empty-netter with 1:16 left. Sheldon Brookbank had the lone goal for the Hawks.
“Obviously, it’s a tough road trip, and maybe it’s a wakeup call,” said Marian Hossa. “And losing Jonny, it’s never easy when you lose a leader like that. But hopefully he’s going to be back soon.”
The Orpik hit came along the boards in the offensive zone, as Toews tried to chip the puck ahead to Marian Hossa. Just after he moved the puck, Toews was still crouched and still had his head down when Orpik came in and delivered a crushing blow. While he didn’t leave his feet until after contact was made, Orpik’s arm hit Toews in both the shoulder and the head at the same time. The league will look at what can fairly be deemed a borderline hit, but it didn’t appear that Toews’ head was the principal point of contact — the usual criterion for an illegal high hit.
Quenneville reserved judgment on the hit until he could see a replay. Orpik wasn’t penalized, and neither he nor Penguins coach Dan Bylsma saw anything dirty about it.
“There was no penalty, so I don’t know,” Orpik said. “I think that hit happens 10 times a game.”
It’s a line Orpik has walked throughout his 11-year career.
“Orpik is a heavy hitter, that’s his game,” said Hossa, who played with him in Pittsburgh in 2008. “He plays hard, and it’s never easy to play against him. Sometimes the calls are on the edge, but I know him as a fair guy, and that’s how I remember him. Obviously, some calls are tougher than the others, and sometimes he’s on the borderline.”
Kane, who was hurt on March 19 when Brenden Morrow fell on his left leg, is expected back in time for the playoffs. His absence has been felt offensively, particularly on the power play.
But Toews is one of the most indispensable non-goalies in the league, a significant factor at even strength, on the power play, and on the penalty kill. The Hawks also are thin up the middle — rookie Teuvo Teravainen moved up to top-line center after Toews’ injury. Other centers in the lineup are Michal Handzus (who didn’t play in the third period), Marcus Kruger and Peter Regin — quality role players and solid defensive presences, but not the elite offensive talent that Toews is.
But even with home-ice on the line, Quenneville sounded like the team would be cautious with its captain.
“This time of year, we want to make sure Jonny gets better and fresh,” he said. “Whether he gets a break or not, we’ll see.”
The Hawks didn’t retaliate on Orpik or anybody else after the hit, but did ratchet up their game, trailing 2-1 at the time. But the two late goals by Crosby sealed yet another loss for a team that’s reeling — and hurting — at the wrong time.
“It’s just hockey, you lose players all the time,” Sharp said. “Someone’s got to step up. … Obviously, you don’t like your captain getting hit like that. But at the end of the day, they beat us 4-1, and that hurts, as well.”