ST. PAUL, Minn. – The points weren't there for Jonathan Toews earlier in the season. His confidence waned, too, as the Blackhawks captain's frustrations built.
Fast forward to the present, when Toews is starting to look like himself again. And on Tuesday, as the Blackhawks continued to play their best hockey of the season, Toews had his most productive game of the season.
Toews had a five-point night, including a hat trick, as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 5-3. The Blackhawks won their seventh consecutive road game, tying a franchise record first set during the 1964-65 season. The Blackhawks have won seven of their last eight games and are now five points behind the Wild, who enter their bye week.
As much as the Blackhawks wanted to be rounding into form at this point of the regular season, so did Toews. The visible frustration he showed earlier this season, when nothing seemed to work offense-wise, is gone. He, Richard Panik and Nick Schmaltz have formed a strong and productive top line, with all three having great nights on Tuesday. Schmaltz had a goal and two assists and Panik had a goal and an assist.
"I think even the other night in Buffalo we had a ton of chances and the puck wasn't going in much. But sometimes you just have nights like that. Either way it's a lot of fun to play with Schmaltzy and Panner right now the way they're working, the way they're holding onto the puck," Toews said. "It's nice for us to get some results. It definitely changes the way you see yourself and your confidence. It's a lot of fun to come to the rink to come working at it and keep improving off efforts like that."
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The Blackhawks needed every bit of what they got on Tuesday, be it from Toews or from the team overall. The Wild, once again, weren't going away quietly. Mikael Granlund's second power-play goal of the night, with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation, cut the Blackhawks' lead to 4-3 at the time. Toews' lengthy empty-net goal with 1:02 left in the game sealed it.
"He just wasn't getting the bounces at the start of the year. He always worked so hard. You knew at some point tides were going to change for him," said Schmaltz, whose slick behind-the-back pass led to Toews' second goal of the night. "Pucks are going in, he's hanging around the net and he's burying a few lately. It's great to see."
The Blackhawks are finding their four-line rotation and their more complete game at just the right time. Toews is doing the same thing with his production.
"I think for me the biggest change in my approach to the game is just my expectation. Just try and go into every game with no expectation, focus on the process, focus on playing well, playing the right way, staying in the moment, especially if things don't go in or things don't go your way," Toews said. "Just building one game after another to try and follow up good efforts and put weeks together, multiple games back to back."