ANAHEIM, Calif. – The question always arises at this time of year, especially as the playoffs continue: whose top players will perform as such?
Two postseasons ago, Jonathan Toews had his struggles in that department. He wasn’t scoring, and he was losing his cool to the point where defenseman Brent Seabrook had to give him a penalty-box pep talk in the second round against Detroit.
But more often than not, Toews is the one doing the calming as well as the leading. And throughout this series, especially in critical situations, Toews was also doing the scoring.
Toews led the best way possible on Saturday night, scoring the first two goals as the Blackhawks went on to beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 in Game 7 of the Western Conference final. It was a stellar game for Toews, who didn’t do too shabby in the series overall, either. Toews scored five goals in the Blackhawks’ last four games against the Ducks; the Blackhawks went 3-1 in those games, and his two goals late in Game 5 pushed the team to an overtime that didn’t seem plausible.
So with the postseason on the line, any surprise Toews was the catalyst on Saturday?
“No, not at all,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s an amazing person, an amazing hockey player. The bigger the stage, the setup, he seems to excel. He shows he’s a good a leader in any sport.”
Ultimately, Toews is just trying to fulfill the captain’s job description.
“You want to consider yourself that type of player at the end of the day but it helps when you’re alongside guys with those same intangibles,” he said. “The guy I’m sitting with right here [Duncan Keith], [Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp,] you go down the list of guys who have been around for years and have the experience in the playoffs. We feed off each other.”
And in the opening minutes, the Blackhawks were feeding off Toews. He was there when Frederik Andersen gave up the rebound on Niklas Hjalmarsson’s shot, scoring to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead just 2:23 into the game. He scored a power-play goal later in the period for a 2-0 lead that set the Blackhawks on their way.
“It speaks volumes about the character in this room and the leadership starting with the captain; you get two goals right away,” said Kane. “It’s pretty remarkable how he shows up in these games and seems to come through time after time.”
Linemate Brandon Saad said Toews, “is our leader on and off the ice. For us to go out there and for him those goals early for us, it gives the whole team confidence.”
Top players get questioned a lot this time of year. They’re expected to lead on the ice as well as off it. They’re expected to be there with the big goals at the critical times. Toews is used to massive expectations. In many postseasons, including this one, he’s met them.
“I hope so, maybe for at least one period,” Toews said about getting the right performance. “Across the group, we kind of want to own up to each other, be accountable. We have a great leadership group everyone responds to. Everyone wants to contribute. As an individual, that’s all you can ask for.”