Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 4/13/12
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Within the first five minutes of Thursday's Western Conference quarterfinals opener between the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes, it was clear both teams were playing with a new dynamic. The Blackhawks got Jonathan Toews back after a 22-game absence related to a concussion, and the young center made his presence felt quickly with a goal four minutes into the first period. The Coyotes, meanwhile, lost winger Radim Vrbata to an undisclosed injury 30 seconds into the game and were forced to adjust without their leading scorer. "Losing Vrbata early in the game, that's 35 goals out of our lineup right there," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "I was concerned about the rhythm of our game without Vrbata. It was harder to get a read on what we were doing because you lose a guy on your top line first shift, you've got to make some adjustments in a hurry." The Coyotes ultimately made those adjustments and took a 1-0 series lead with 3-2 victory despite the Blackhawks forcing overtime with 14.2 seconds left in regulation. Those adjustments might have to last beyond one game if Vrbata's injury keeps him out any longer. Tippet characterized Vrbata as day-to-day but provided no further details. Vrbata left the ice after taking a hit to the head from Chicago center Andrew Shaw and the Coyotes announced later in the period that Vrbata was being evaluated. While the severity and nature of the injury are yet unknown, it's naturally a bad sign when a player spends most of the game in the trainer's room. Should the Coyotes lose Vrbata for a significant stretch, the Game 1 victory will have come at a cost, albeit an unforeseen and unavoidable one. Short a first line forward, the Coyotes will have to shuffle lines, and their already paltry power play could suffer. "You don't score 35 goals without having some very good skill," Tippett said of Vrbata. "Usually that's what makes your power play pretty good is some skill. It goes without saying, he can be a key guy for us." Though the Blackhawks must now play from behind, their newly regained dynamic remains the same heading into Saturday's Game 2. Toews looked sharp in his return despite winning just nine of 20 face offs. He won 59.4 percent in the regular season and may have been showing a bit of rust. But with his first game under his belt since Feb. 19, Toews figures to only get better. Maybe more important than how Toews looked, though, was how he felt. Toews took the second concussion of his career very cautiously and waited until Thursday morning to say definitively he would be back in the lineup. "I felt as good as I possibly could," Toews said. "It's tough. It's going to be a fast, intense, physical game and you do everything you can to just play smart. For the most part I just went to the net hard and tried to let (Patrick Kane) and (Marian Hossa) make the plays." While Toews may have deferred a bit to linemates Kane and Hossa, the mere fact they were on the ice together gives the Blackhawks an unmatched front line. They may not possess the depth some teams enjoy -- Phoenix included -- but that trio is hard to beat. It was with that dangerous group on the ice that Toews scored his first goal in nearly two months, with Kane and defenseman Johnny Oduya assisting. Chicago wouldn't score again until Brent Seabook forced overtime in the game's final moments. "There were some things we can take out of this game, but we didn't get the win so we're not happy with that," Toews said. "We're not satisfied and we've got to get better for Game 2." Toews' return certainly makes the Blackhawks a different team, and his continued presence could give Chicago just what it needs to seize control of the series. Vrbata's absence makes the Coyotes a different team as well, and how long he's sidelined could have momentous consequences for the Coyotes. No one player makes a team in the NHL, especially not in the playoffs, but in this case the presence and absence of one guy on each side could alter the course of the series.
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