Sometimes, you forget just how young Jonathan Toews is. Just 22, although so focused that his more fun-loving teammates call him Captain Serious.
Still, a certain seriousness of purpose was what was required of the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday night to get back on track in these Stanley Cup playoffs, after frittering away two games on the road to the Philadelphia Flyers.
So coach Joel Quenneville split up his No. 1 line - of Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien - for last night's fifth game and it had the desired effect. The three did far more damage playing apart than they had playing together in the series. The result: a 7-4 victory over the Flyers and a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final.
Chicago can win its first Stanley Cup in 49 years with a victory in Game 6 Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Thus far, the home team has won every game in the series and the Blackhawks used the home ice to full advantage last night. A who's who of local luminaries - from Vince Vaughn to Michael Jordan - crowded into the United Center to see the adjustments made by Quenneville work like magic.
Jordan was decked out in a Toews sweater watching the game from a private box. At 6:11 of the second period, they flashed Jordan's image on the Jumbotron, with the Flyers threatening to make a game of it, after they had fallen behind 3-0 in the first.
But Kane turned his primary nemesis in the series, Flyers' defenceman Chris Pronger, inside out with a spin-arama move, and coaxed Pronger into taking a hooking penalty on the play.
With Pronger watching from the box, the Blackhawks whipped the puck around the perimeter on the power play until Toews found Byfuglien stationed in front - for an easy put away. That Byfuglien was on his feet, not on his posterior, where Pronger had put him for much of the series, was a pivotal difference on the shift, and in the game.
Byfuglien's goal, which restored Chicago's lead to three goals, proved to be enough, on a night that was oddly reminiscent of Game 1's wild 6-5 shootout. It was a sloppy free-for-all for long stretches, and the refereeing wasn't crisp either - with missed high-sticking calls on Brian Campbell and Daniel Briere that might have changed the momentum at different stages of the game.
Pronger, who was on the ice for all five Philadelphia goals Friday night, was on the ice for the first four Blackhawks' goals last night. Brent Seabrook opened the scoring deflecting the shot in off his skate. Michael Leighton was at fault on the second one, on a delayed penalty when the Flyers collectively fell asleep and permitted Bolland to bank a shot off Leighton's skate from behind the net.
On the third goal, Pronger and Matt Carle backed in on Leighton because they received no back-checking support from their forwards. Versteeg took advantage by firing an eminently stoppable 25-foot wrist in on the stick side.
"When we're successful, we win as a team," said Flyers' coach Peter Laviolette. "When we have a night that's tougher, we do it as a team. Were the minus-5s all (Pronger's) fault? No.
"One thing I've learned along the way about the playoffs is that one game is only one game. There's usually not a carryover effect. This is just one page of the story. Tonight, it was their page. A couple of days off here and we go back to our building, where we've had a lot of success this year and win a hockey game and force Game 7."
Leighton got the hook after one period and his Blackhawks' counterpart Antti Niemi had a few anxious moments as well. But overall, Chicago parleyed a fast start into a big early lead and then held off the Flyers the rest of the way.
The Blackhawks had some balance in their scoring last night, with Seabrook, Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp and Kane all counting goals. Byfuglien also added an empty-netter with 2:05 to go and finished with four points, by far his best performance of the series. He also knocked Pronger over with a big hit.
"I knew what I had to do," said Byfuglien. "I just stuck to my game plan and never got away from it."
Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timmonen, James Van Riemsdyk and Simon Gagne accounted for Philadelphia's goals.
Brian Boucher came on to replace Leighton in goal for the start of the second period. With two days off between games, coach Peter Laviolette will be peppered with questions about his goaltending plans for Game 6, when the Stanley Cup will be in the house.
Toews played with Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, and while they didn't get much going on the score sheet, they were frequently dominant on the cycle playing five-on-five.
"I think we found the energy when we shuffled the lines," said Hossa. "It felt like everybody had their legs going and we put a lot of pressure on their 'D.' Toews is easy to play with and he made a nice pass on Buff's goal. A great game by him, I think."
Toews had skipped his daily meeting with the chattering hordes Saturday, on the off day, but was a fountain of inspiration on Sunday, holding court on the morning of the game and sounding as if he's been through the wars for two decades.
He'd say things like: "We have to believe it's ours and it truly is, we just have to find a way to go take it."
He suggested that "we can all dig a little deeper and find that extra something because we know as a team how good we are and we haven't reached the limit yet."
And Toews wasn't impressed with the fact that the Flyers hadn't lost between Games 4 and 7 in any series this spring - until last night of course.
"To us all the statistics and all the history goes out the window now. Anything can happen at this point. It's in our control - and if we want it bad enough, we'll get it."
They did as Toews thought they would - or could. They got the one win. If they can get another, then they're Stanley Cup champions. Serious stuff indeed.