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Rookie center Jonathan Toews is a very important player for the Chicago Blackhawks. Their performance in his absence is proof of that.
The Blackhawks hope to end a season-high five-game losing streak Tuesday night when they face the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Toews had been enjoying an impressive first season for the Blackhawks (19-19-3) before he injured his left knee in the first period of a 9-2 loss at Los Angeles on Jan. 1. Although the injury will not require surgery, the 19-year-old will be out of action for three to four weeks.
Taking Toews out of Chicago's lineup leaves a huge void for a team that is hoping to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02. He is the NHL leader among rookies with 15 goals and a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as the league's best first-year player.
Toews' injury is magnified because the Blackhawks are already missing six regulars - defensemen Brent Sopel (broken finger) and James Wisniewski (knee), and forwards Jason Williams (groin), Kevyn Adams (knee), Dave Bolland (broken finger) and Ben Eager (concussion).
Including the loss to the Kings, the Blackhawks have dropped all four games without Toews, scoring six goals. Chicago's five-game skid (0-4-1) is its longest since it lost six in a row from March 16-28.
The Blackhawks were unable to recover after allowing three first-period goals Sunday in a 3-1 home loss to Detroit.
Oft-injured right wing Martin Havlat returned after missing six games with a groin injury. Havlat, who sat out 22 games earlier this season due to an injured shoulder, has five goals and six assists in 13 games.
"We're a .500 team, but we think we're better than that," coach Denis Savard said. "The way we started when we were healthy, we feel we can be a playoff team and I still do. The next two or three games, hopefully will get us going."
Right wing Patrick Kane - Chicago's other prized rookie - has been held to two goals in his last 24 games after scoring seven in his first 17 contests.
Poor special teams also have played a role in the Blackhawks' slump. The power play is 1-for-17 in the past six games while the penalty killers have allowed nine goals in 34 short-handed situations in that span.
Montreal's home struggles continued Saturday with a 5-4 overtime loss to Washington.
The Canadiens (20-13-8) twice rallied from third-period deficits only to lose for the eighth time in 10 home games (2-5-3).
"We didn't deserve to win the way we played in the last two periods," left wing Christopher Higgins said. "It was nice to see we came back two times in the third to tie it up but we definitely didn't deserve to win."
Despite the loss, Montreal gained at least one point for the fifth straight game (3-0-2).
Left wing Andrei Kostitsyn continued his production with his 11th goal Saturday. He has eight goals and seven assists in his last 14 contests, scoring four goals in his past three games.
The Canadiens had won three straight in this series before a 2-1 road loss on Oct. 18, 2006. Chicago has lost its last two visits to Montreal, last winning there on Dec. 3, 2001.