Rarely, rarely do you ever get to see Jonathan Toews as pumped up as he was Thursday morning.
Sure, he still had that stoic, serious look he's made famous since he came here as a kid, but you could just tell the Blackhawks captain sensed something big happening heading into Game 1 against St. Louis.
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"The last couple of practices we've had are probably some of the best we've had all year," said Toews, who missed the final six games of the regular season. "You can definitely tell that the guys are ready to go and ready to get this thing going.
"We're focused and really ready to play the way that we want to play and play the best hockey we've played all year."
It was a much different Toews about 11 hours later just minutes after the Blackhawks couldn't hold a lead late in regulation and ended up dropping a 4-3 decision in three overtimes to St. Louis.
"It's not fun to lose those games," he said. "You go the length of a game like that you want to find a way to win.
"It's disappointing, but this is a long series."
For much of the night, the Hawks were the faster, crisper team, and after they took a 3-2 lead on a Patrick Kane breakaway, keyed by a sweet pass by Toews in the final minutes of a wild and woolly opening 20 minutes.
"Kaner made several nice plays, Johnny as well," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Didn't look like they missed much."
St. Louis battled the Hawks toe to toe the next 38 minutes before Jaden Schwartz sent the sold-out crowd at Scottrade Center into a frenzy with a backhander that eluded Corey Crawford and sent the game into what would be the first of three OT sessions.
After the two teams failed to score in the first two overtimes, it only took 26 seconds for Alexander Steen to cap the night by beating Crawford. "Both those teams put a lot into this one, boy," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's a great team over there."
Like Toews, Quenneville sensed a mood change on the team thanks to the return of his stars.
"We had real good pace to our practices and I thought having Johnny and Kaner back on the lines … all of a sudden everybody got some enthusiasm off that," Quenneville said. "They got a chance to play with Kaner or Johnny and there is more balance in our lines."
Toews, who took a slash late in the first OT, was a force Thursday from the get-go. He finished the first period with a pair of assists, including a beauty that sent Kane in alone on Ryan Miller.
Back-to-back goals by Johnny Oduya and Brent Seabrook helped turn a 1-0 Blues lead into a 2-1 deficit. But then Schwartz struck at the end of regulation and Steen added the dagger to give the Blues the Game 1 win.
"That was six periods of two teams leaving it out there" Quenneville said.
Now the question is can the Hawks regroup after such a heartbreaking loss?
Toews thinks so.
"It's one of those first games that can go either way," he said. "We'll find a way to put it behind us and we'll be even better next game."