More proof that the regular season – stats, performance, trends, whatever – can mean so little when the playoffs roll around is evident nightly on the face of the frustrated and struggling Jonathan Toews, captain of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago had one of those seasons for the ages – 24 games without a regulation defeat to start the year, a league-high 77 points to win the President’s Trophy and home-ice advantage for as long as they play in the postseason – and Toews was a big part of what went right for the Blackhawks this year. He was 13th in the league in scoring, an eye-popping plus-28, received some MVP support and generally helped make Chicago the darlings of the shortened NHL season.
All of it is threatening to go – poof! - up in a puff of smoke in the second round against a pesky, rebuilding-on-the-fly Detroit Red Wings team that is teaching Chicago a thing or two about how the playoffs differ from the regular season.
Though known primarily as a skilled, puck-possession team, Detroit has more than its share of bangers, and some of them – notably, the defence pair of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, forward Justin Abdelkader and Toews’s personal shadow, Henrik Zetterberg – have been consistently getting under Captain Serious’s skin in these playoffs.
Toews had 23 regular-season goals, tied with Patrick Kane for the Blackhawks’ team lead, but he has zero in nine playoff games – and his frustration boiled to the surface in what may turn out to be the decisive game in the series, a 2-0 shutout victory for Detroit Thursday night, which gave the Red Wings a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final.
Toews didn’t like the way the Red Wings were working him over physically and he showed it in the second period, where he was flagged for not one, not two, but three consecutive minor penalties.
Toews is normally the epitome of cool, the perfect captain in many ways, but the combination of the Red Wings’ checking and his inability to break a lengthy goal-scoring drought finally got to him. On the second infraction, a high-sticking call in which Toews thought Abdelkader was guilty of embellishment, the Red Wings scored the only goal they’d need, on the power play, off Jakub Kindl’s stick, with one second to go in the man advantage.
Toews went to the penalty box immediately after for getting his stick up on Ericsson and long-time teammate Brent Seabrook actually went into the penalty box to put his arm around him and settle him down. That sort of composure loss is close to unprecedented and proves again that sometimes, a little regular-season adversity can pay dividends in the playoffs.
Detroit certainly had its share early on.
They were terrible at the start of the year, losing a 6-0 decision in the season opener to the St. Louis Blues, but gradually found their way, integrating young players, and living with Jimmy Howard’s inconsistent moments in goal.
Meanwhile, Chicago lost just seven games in regulation in the regular season; at no point did they lose three in a row the way they have against the Wings. Chicago swept the season series against Detroit – meaningless now, with the Blackhawks on the ropes and threatening to become yet another President’s Trophy-winning team unable to close the deal in the postseason. It proves once again that in the NHL playoffs, if it’s your week, it could be your year. Detroit wasn’t great for long stretches of the season, but they got it together in time.