He hasn’t provided a lot of answers on the ice in these playoffs, not of the goal-scoring variety anyway, which is often how Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews will send a message. Snake-bit around the net is how they explain why Toews has just the one goal to show for 19 games, just a numbingly low total for a player that was tied for the team’s regular-season goal-scoring lead with 23 in 47 games, almost a prorated 40-goal season.
Watch: Boston 2, Chicago 1 (OT)
Chris Kelly of the Boston Bruins tied Toews in the overall NHL playoff goal-scoring race Saturday, when his first of the postseason helped his team get a split of the first two games of the Stanley Cup final, before the series shifted to Boston for Game 3 Monday night.
Altogether, 11 players on the Bruins and Blackhawks have managed to find the net more times than Toews, including the likes of Adam McQuaid and Marcus Kruger.
Do statistics matter? Not in and of themselves. At this stage of the season, it’s more important to win than anything and despite losing Saturday’s second game of the Stanley Cup final to the Bruins 2-1 in overtime, the Blackhawks are even in the series at a game apiece.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been parrying questions about Toews’s perplexing goal-scoring slump throughout the playoffs and all his answers cover the same basic theme. Toews contributes in many other areas – in the faceoff circle, defensively, with his leadership, with his physical play. But of late, he usually adds one small codicil: It would be nice if the puck started to go in for him.
Remember, this is a player who was No. 1 on 39 Hart Trophy ballots this year, an award that goes annually to the NHL’s most valuable player. But Toews was speaking for himself and for the team after they lost a game they should have won Saturday, frittering away a massively complete first period in which they had Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask under siege, only to let the Bruins inch their way back into the game.
“No one’s going to give you anything easy,” Toews said. “We came out with a boatload of shots in the first period and we came up with a goal, which is good. But we’ve got to find a way to build on that, because the next goal proved to be a big one. They believed they could come back in that game when they got that first one.
“When you have the momentum, you have to keep it. You’ve got to try your best to hang onto it as long as you can.”
The Blackhawks have played three consecutive overtime games now dating back to the elimination game in the Los Angeles Kings series, 15 periods of hockey, when only nine were technically scheduled. It is further proof, if further proof were needed, of how close all these teams are and how little separates them in terms of talent.
Momentum, as Toews referenced it, is a favourite subject at this time of year and once upon a time, momentum seemed to matter in the NHL playoffs.
Two decades ago, the bane of the Stanley Cup final was the fact that sweeps were the order of the day, and when one team fell behind, it fell hard and didn’t have the ability to recover. In 1994-95, during the last 48-game season, the New Jersey Devils just got better with every game and the Detroit Red Wings got worse and it was all over in a week.
This series? This looks as if it could go the distance and small changes – such as Toews maybe getting it going offensively – could tilt matters in a direction favourable to them. How close is it? Consider that in both games thus far, the team that eventually won didn’t lead for a single moment during the game, only on the final scoresheet.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s a challenge too,” said Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, who leads the team with nine goals and was the only player to get one past Rask on Saturday night. “You’ve got to win four games. It’s a race to get there. Both teams aren’t going to give up, that’s for sure, so there’s no point in hanging our heads. We’ll regroup and be ready for the next game.”
So now the Blackhawks take their show on the road and venture into hostile territory, where the Bruins are pretty good these days.
“I don’t really know what our history is in Game 3s, in these playoffs or in previous years. It doesn’t matter what game we’re in, or what the score is in the series, we try to play like it’s Game 7, no matter what. That doesn’t change.”
Nor does the fact that with two evenly matched teams, there was a good chance they could be at this for a while yet.
“No one said it was going to be easy,” repeated Toews, as if it were his mantra. “No one said everything was going to go our way. Some moments, you feel pretty darn good, like when we won Game 1 in triple overtime and tonight doesn’t feel good, but you just have to find a way to get over it and move on to the next time you’re going to be on the ice and focus on preparing for that.”