(CBS) — Hockey players are creatures of habit, ever so superstitious. There are rules to follow.
Never step on the logo in the locker room, for one. That Indian head logo is sacred. Grow a gnarly beard for the playoffs—just because. And don’t mess with the karma of a red-hot line.
When Brad Richards was asked what’s been clicking for the “PB&K line,” he shied away.
“Those things are tough to talk about, because you don’t want to jinx it,” said Richards. “We’re just having fun right now.”
Fun is certainly one way to describe it. Success has followed the Blackhawks’ second line. The trio has combined for 23 goals and 37 assists.
Even in Chicago’s years of Stanley Cup pursuits, the second line center has never quite found an answer. The offseason signing of Richards, 34, has paid dividends for the Blackhawks. He’s making Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg play well, too.
“When you’re playing with talent like those two, it can up your game,” Versteeg said of his linemates.
Kane leads the Blackhawks with 13 goals entering Friday, putting him a tie for seventh place in the NHL. He’s also Chicago’s points leader with 25. But his success isn’t too surprising.
“He’s a pretty good player,” said Richards with a smile.
The surprising success story on the group is Versteeg, the former Blackhawks farmhand whose career has been revived in a return to Chicago. The 28-year-old seemed to be damaged goods after surgery in 2012 to recover from a knee injury. His addition in November 2013 was even a bit of a shocker.
But the Blackhawks believed that Versteeg still had his best hockey ahead. He’s well on pace to topple all career highs. The winger credits an offseason spent with full health and careful work on his game rather than a recovery.
“Training is a lot different than rehabbing,” said Versteeg.
In the Blackhawks’ playoff run last spring, Versteeg was essentially a liability on the ice. His poor play was doing more harm than good. What an improvement it has been.
Versteeg’s linemates credit his work ethic in leading to the early-season success.
“It sounded like he wanted to redeem himself,” said Richards. “You look at the shape he was in coming in to training camp, how focused he is, you can tell he wants to get back on track. We’re the beneficiary.”
When the Blackhawks’ second line is put on the ice, the three benefit on another. A franchise player, a wise offseason addition and a cool comeback story are red hot working together.
Coach Joel Quenneville felt the combination of chemistry and talent would blend well together. While he’s known for changing up the lines—sometimes to a fault, arguably—the PB&K line isn’t being broken up anytime soon.
“I like everything now,” Quenneville said of the grouping.
Success seems to be on the side of Kane, Richards and Versteeg, a trio that looks as if it’s played together for years, not weeks. There will be more goals, assists and celebrations to follow.
Just don’t ask for their secret. After all, hockey players are superstitious.