Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews continues to lead by example for Blackhawks

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Jonathan Toews continues to lead by example for Blackhawks

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.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the Stanley Cup Final, Blackhawks fans!]

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.”

[MORE: Blackhawks start fast, top Ducks in Game 7 to advance to Stanley Cup Final]

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.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”