Iginla and Toews: Captains courageous in playoff race

Every time a new captain is named in the NHL, the debate rages: What is someone who wears the 'C' supposed to be for his team? Pacesetter on the ice? Cheerleader on the bench? Guy who organizes the charity bake sale for the players' wives? Guy who lets Mike Knuble(notes) and Scott Hannan(notes) do all the talking?

What we've seen from two captains in the Western Conference for most of 2011 is the kind of tangible, quantifiable leadership that makes one appreciate their critical roles on the roster. Which is to say Jonathan Toews(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks and Jarome Iginla(notes) of the Calgary Flames have lived up to the letter on their sweater -- and then some.

In Iginla's case, he's obviously had some help. The Flames received a Vezina-worthy month of goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff(notes), in which he surrendered two or fewer goals in nine of his 13 starts, going 8-2-3. Olli Jokinen's(notes) line was torrid in February, too.

But Iginla's 31 points in his last 27 games, including an exceptional 14 goals, are more than a symptom of that success. When Iggy goes, so go the Flames. In those 27 games, they're 17-6-4; Iginla has 26 points in 21 games in which Calgary has garnered at least a point.

Last night, with goal No. 30, we're all reminded that we're not only watching a captain at the top of his game, but a Hall of Famer leading his team.

As for Toews, you can pinpoint the Blackhawks' rally in the standings to Feb. 9, as they've gone 10-1-2 since. Toews had already been tearing up opponents and ascending in the scoring race by that time; in their last 13 games, he has 19 points, including 8 goals.

He's also suddenly in the Top 10 in scoring, one point behind Iginla (66) ... and Sidney Crosby(notes).

It's Crosby's absence that has Pierre LeBrun wondering if Toews might have rocketed his way in the Hart Trophy conversation after helping to resurrect the champs. From ESPN:

Sidney Crosby's unfortunate concussion has left the Hart Trophy race wide open, and if Toews carries on with his current play through the final five weeks of the regular season, he deserves consideration. Chants of "M-V-P" roared from the United Center crowd following a postgame, ice-level interview Wednesday night.

"Yeah I heard that, I heard that," said a humble Toews, no doubt his cheeks reddening across the phone line. "It's pretty cool. The fans get going and they're pretty loud. They're excited right now. They're starting to see the same thing we do. They're seeing the potential on our team."

The Flames and Blackhawks were also-rans earlier this season; teams whose postseasons appeared to be more about rethinking the roster than challenging for the Cup. Iginla and Toews aren't singularly responsible for their rise in the standings, nor are they the only captains in the NHL excelling at a high level in crunch time. But there's something to be said for setting the tone, leaving your innards on the ice for your team and just flat out performing during a migraine-inducing playoff race in the Western Conference that changes by the minute.

We spend so much time fretting about marginal bums taking cheap shots in this League that we sometimes fail to acknowledge, or take for granted, the heroism of the true stars.

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