Another Cup on course for the Captain

At 27, Toews has earned the title of ‘Mr. Blackhawk’

By Shane Nicholson
Managing Editor

Mikita. Hull. Savard. Esposito. If he retired tommorw Jonathan Toews would eclipse them all.

The case for the Winnipeg-native to already lay claim to the mantle of Greatest Blackhawk Ever was strong before he led his team back from a 2-3 deficit to the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals.

His intent was there for all to see within minutes of the clinching Game 7, pouncing on a rebound just outside goalkeeper Frederik Andersen’s crease to give the ‘Hawks a lead they would never surrender just 2:23 into the game. He’d double the advantage by scoring on the power play at 11:55 and send the Honda Center crowd into a quiet subdued shock.

Certainly they’d seen this before having lost Game 7’s at home in the playoffs the past three seasons. But what they hadn’t seen was a player like Toews seemingly will his team through the final two games and deliver the back-breaking blow.

The signs were there for the Ducks and for fans of every team across the league. At the age of only 27 Toews has won everything. That’s not an exaggeration or over-selling the point – the Blackhawks captain has won nearly every trophy of consequence for a professional hockey player, claiming two World Juniors, a World Championship, two Olympic Golds and of course his two Stanley Cups in Chicago. At just 22 years of age he had already had his ticket punched to hockey’s Triple Gold Club.

If that wasn’t enough he became the game’s second youngest Conn Smythe winner, trailing only Patrick Roy. Not Messier, not Lemieux, not Yzerman, not any of the great centers to sport the “C” on their chests had accomplished what Toews had.

And yet fans and pundits seemed unimpressed. His point totals didn’t show the numbers a dominant force is expected to display. He eschewed flash to focus on the finer points of his two-way game and claimed the most selfless individual award in the sport, the Selke trophy.

His unassuming play is met by his unassuming demeanor off the ice. “I don’t think it’s a question of how excited we are,” he said during a press conference Monday in the build up to tonight’s Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Tampa.

“I think we’re just trying to contain our excitement to a certain degree…(Sunday) night was–for me–was probably one of the toughest nights to get to sleep because of that excitement.”

But behind those aww shucks moments he provides press conferences lies a calm confidence that conveys itself on the ice as seen in the closing seconds of Game 5 in Anaheim.

Down two goals and playing with an empty net behind him, Toews drew the ‘Hawks back level in just 72 seconds, the second an improbable bank shot off Andersen from the left corner.

Back home in Game 6 Toews played the quiet leader role to perfection, topping Chicago forwards with 19 minutes of icetime and winning 83 percent of his faceoffs. While he failed to record a point in the 5-2 win Toews was ever-present at both ends of the ice as fellow stalwarts Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane led the line.

Then came Game 7. One could call his opening goal a matter being in the right place at the right time, perhaps even a lucky bounce. But luck favors the successfully impaired, and one who has watched Jonathan Toews captain this team since only his 65th game in the NHL knows that this is such a man.

“You want to consider yourself that type of player at the end of the day,” Toews said after the game. “But it helps when you’re alongside guys that have those same intangibles.

“The guys I’m sitting with right here [Keith], [Kane], [Patrick Sharp], [Marian] Hossa, the guys that have been around for years and have had the experience down the stretch in the playoffs, we feed off each other.”

He feeds off them; they feed off him. Arenas full of fans feed off him. An entire city made hockey-mad by their #19 in red feeds off him. And now Toews sits on the brink of a third Stanley Cup in six short years. Hall of Famers have fallen short of having their name grace the Cup just once in their careers.

Yet Toews, in just his eighth season, will see his name etched on Lord Stanley’s silver grace again should he lead his Blackhawks past the Tampa Bay Lightning. Given his track record in such affairs there is every indication that he will.

It won’t be enough for critics of the captain – they still point to Kane’s goal scoring; the steady presence of Keith and Seabrook in the backline; the series-swinging performances of Corey Crawford in 2013.

All those players and the numerous more in recent memory who’ve carried the Cup around the ice in Blackhawks’ sweaters (the first such instance of such scenes since the Kennedy administration) have one very apparent thing in common: they all received it after it was hoisted by Toews.

The great eras of the Blackhawks saw great players claiming championship glory, from the two Cups in the 1930s prized on the blade of Johnny Gottselig’s stick to the Pierre Pilote-led sides of the ‘60s who bested the Canadiens and Red Wings on the way to the franchise’s third title.

But Jonny Toews has surpassed them all, and all comfortably before his 30th birthday. He is without a doubt the greatest player to ever pull on a Blackhawks jersey, and beginning tonight he gets to add to the legend we’ve all had the privilege of watching unfold before us.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m. on NBC.

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