True leaders in sports rise to the occasion; and so it was that when the Chicago Blackhawks needed a win to keep their Stanley Cup hopes alive in this postseason, they turned to somehow-still-young captain Jonathan Toews.
I swear that Toews seems like he's been in the league for a decade at this point even if he's just 25, but maybe it's a result of all the talk for how wise-beyond-his-years he is and how much respect he commands and how clutch he is.
You want evidence of these things? Go back to the game tape from Saturday night, when Toews was a plus-8 Corsi and finally even scored that goal he's been looking for since the regular season ended. That's the definition of clutch, right there. Adding the third goal out of four, on the power play, to pull him only three back of Bryan Bickell's postseason total. That's leading by example when his team had its backs against the wall. That's a mere one fewer than Andrew Shaw had in the final two periods.
Finally he broke through, and what a shot to get it done too, right? A resurgence, that's what it was. A way to build momentum. He was the guy that rose to the challenge, too. And all it took was his team getting decked three games straight by a team that any rational observer looked at and said, "Hey, if they don't get swept, that'll be something else."
Well jeez, hey, Detroit didn't get swept. That five-game run they were supposed to get is now at seven at the absolute worst, and that's a modicum of hope no one would have granted them a week and a half ago. Why? Chicago's resurgent leader who needed to rise to the challenge finally stopped complaining about the refs long enough to pop one into the net and pull his team back into a situation in which they merely had to win two straight now, instead of three. That's, well, I mean it's something. It's better than bowing out quietly, for sure. And that's why he has the C on his chest, or whichever argument we're now making to insulate Jonny Toews, a world-class hockey player and stoic champion and heraldic leader of men everyone should aspire to be.
All that, of course, ignores that Toews should never have allowed his team to have been in that position.
If we're going to start handing out credentials based on leadershipiness and hustlehavingitude, Toews is usually a good place to start, but that sure doesn't excuse the garbage he turned out in the first nine games of these playoffs.
The line around the block that formed as media morons queued up to defend his 0-3-3 line through nine games rivaled those at Space Mountain at the height of its drawing power, and then the second he scores in what is a borderline blowout, there was nearly confetti falling from press row. "SEE!? Jonathan Toews is a world-class player? He's right back on track now!" Yuck.
Isn't it amazing that he scored once he finally got away from Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall and whichever top-flight checking forwards and shutdown defensemen Mike Babcock could throw over the boards on every shift? Having last change and a power play so he could be on the ice against Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey, Patrick Eaves and Joakim Andersson, boy doesn't that just validate everything that was ever said about him and why we should just forgive this luckless streak.
All that stuff about how shouldn't we take it easy on him because Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall were out there against him every shift? (Well, no, because that's who elite centers get matched up against.)
And how he's very good defensively so what's he supposed to even do out there, both score and defend? (Well, yes, because that's what he did every other game this year, regardless of opponent.)
Look, it's not like he wasn't being put in those exact same positions in the regular season, and wow look what he did against the Red Wings then: 2-3-5 in four games. I guess when you're not shooting 20 percent, it's a little harder to look effective.
The point is, the Blackhawks should have run riot over the Red Wings, with Jonathan Toews riding up front with a host of bloodthirsty cohorts at his back. He should have been bathing in the blood of his defeated archrivals days ago. Now we're settling for him scoring once to force a Game 6 that likely would have happened even if he'd been characteristically silent in this second victory too.
I just hope that if the Blackhawks do rebound and win this series, and then return to form behind their resurgent, momentum-backed, challenge-ready captain, that the Blackhawks' PR staff get their names on the Cup. They're working as hard as anyone to keep the kinds of slings and arrows that would have been rightly thrown at a guy like Joe Thornton a million times over this spring from getting through to their own No. 19. Hell, I'd give 'em the Conn Smythe too. We know for sure Toews isn't getting it this time around.
Ah, but that goal was pretty good. All worth it, really.
What We Learned
Boston Bruins: For real, though, this Torey Krug thing is more impressive than Chris Kreider ever was last year because he's also playing well in his own end as a defenseman and he was undrafted, instead of being a first-round pick.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes and NC State are having a bit of a fight over scheduling conflicts for next season as a result of the latter trying to hold too many potential dates at the same time. Here's a solution: Have NC State schedule all its home games for when the NHL playoffs happen, because Carolina won't be playing then.
Chicago Blackhawks: Shout out to Captain Crybaby Jonathan Toews for finally pulling ahead of a small, weak bird in the Stanley Cup Playoffs goalscoring race.
Colorado Avalanche: With Patrick Roy behind the bench, it's time for the Avs to get rid of Semyon Varlamov and get "a goalie capable of leading a team to the Stanley Cup." Because it's literally that easy.
Florida Panthers: A Vancouver Canucks fan living in British Columbia bought Panthers season tickets for $173 and literally couldn't give his tickets away most nights. He gave away four of them to Panthers "fans" for free, and three were used. On a schedule with 24 home dates.
Los Angeles Kings: Why are the Kings playing well (even despite that loss last night)? Fundamentals, baby. Darryl Sutter has 'em running passing drills and making layups and passing six times before they shoot. Some real Coach Carter stuff.
Minnesota Wild: The state of Minnesota forgave about $28.75 million in debts for the Xcel Energy Center and that might lead to more upgrades for the building. Should've just had Parise and Suter go halfsies on it.
Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens are a little thin on top-quality prospects, so should they try to trade up? Depends on how high they can get. In theory they have the picks this year to get into the top six, but don't tell Jay Feaster that whatever you do.
Nashville Predators: The Predators fired their head athletic trainer, who had been with the team since its inaugural season, maybe because just three players got into all 48 games this season. I mean, that seems like a good reason.
New Jersey Devils: Really interesting analysis here of how much the Devils should pay Adam Henrique this summer but James Neal's second contract (two years, $2.875 million per) seems the most comparable. Then they just need to trade him to Pittsburgh to make him good.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes are pretty close to having a new owner. But man, I really feel like I've heard that kind of thing before. Hmm, where would that have come up? I might never remember. Incidentally, today is Day No. 290 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Oh, THIS is why Jean-Gabriel Pageau was supposed to be in the ECHL this season. Sincerely, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, who are really good players in the NHL.
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks will play in a Game 7 tomorrow night. I know what you're thinking: "Those losing losers must always lose in Game 7s because losing is what they do." Nah, dude, the last time they lost one was in 2002 against the Avalanche, and they're 5-2 all-time. Since acquiring Joe Thornton, they're 2-0.
Vancouver Canucks: Speaking of which, Vancouver looks like a possible destination based on the fact that they just fired their coach and all that.
Play of the Weekend
It ended up mattering not even a little bit but man the setup by Jason Spezza and finish by Milan Michalek on this Ottawa goal was nice.
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekend
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Cleatus" says this will help both teams "immensely."
To Winnipeg: Jake Gardiner, Carl Gunnarsson, Matt Frattin, and a 2013 1st round draft pick (22nd overall).
To Toronto: Jacob Trouba, and Mark Scheifele.
He or she is wrong about that.
I have a sense of humor! I laugh at Tony Danza.
Related NHL coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• T.J. Galiardi, Sharks force Game 7 with Kings
• Breaking down the NHL's cap recapture rule
• EA Sports NHL '14 cover battle down to two goalies
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