Of all of the renowned intangibles that make Jonathan Toews a special player — the leadership, the will-to-win, the clutch gene — one in particular is as hard to explain as it is maddening to defend: his golden touch.
It’s all a part of Toews’ growing legend as he turns 26 today with dead-aim on a third Stanley Cup to go with his two Olympic gold medals. In 2010, Toews blocked a shot in Game 3 against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final — it was his first blocked shot in six games — and the puck caromed neatly to Dave Bolland for a breakaway and a tie-breaking goal that hurtled the series toward a sweep. Two days later, Duncan Keith blocked a shot with his face and lost seven teeth — leading to a short-handed goal by the Sharks’ Patrick Marleau. Where Keith’s blocked shot turned into dental surgery and a minus-1, Toews’ block turned into gold.
Jonathan Toews always has had a knack for being at the right place at the right time. But he outdid himself in the Hawks’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff series victory over the St. Louis Blues. With the Hawks down 2-0 in the series, Toews helped turn the series in the Hawks’ favor with three plays that were as fortuitous as they were timely — and that’s not even including his tie-breaking goal in Game 6:
◆ In Game 3 he put a shot on goal that Ryan Miller stops 99 times out of 100. Somehow, this one got through — you could see Miller’s look of disbelief even with his mask on — for a 1-0 lead that made the difference in the Hawks’ 2-0 victory.
◆ In Game 4, Toews took a pass from Patrick Kane in the slot and semi-whiffed on the shot, but still managed to keep the puck alive for Andrew Shaw to poke it past Miller for a 1-0 lead. the Hawks won 4-3 in overtime to tie the series 2-2.
◆ And in overtime in Game 5, Toews just happened to be at center ice on a line change when Keith’s clearing attempt deflected off Shaw and right to Toews for a breakaway that Toews turned into a game-winning goal that gave the Hawks a 3-2 series lead.
“Lucky break by us,” Keith said.
Maybe. Maybe not.
“It’s not luck when it happens over and over and over again,” said NBC and Blackhawks analyst Eddie Olczyk. “It’s part of his DNA. Great players find a way to get the job done and put themselves in that position. They have that anticipation — knowing what’s going to happen before it does.
“There have been players that all of the sudden the puck is on their stick and they’re gone. You make your own bounces. You make your own luck. You’ve got to be able to finish it off or have that ability and want the responsibility to put the game on your stick.”
Olczyk, who played 16 seasons in the NHL and coached the Pittsburgh Penguins, said other players have had that uncanny knack — Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky off the top of his head. What makes Toews unique even among that group is that he is not a prolific scorer. He averages 28 goals and 65 points a season.
“He has become one of the top three players in the National Hockey League,” Olczyk said. “If he’s not scoring he’ still making an impact on the game. If he’s not defending, he’s making an impact on the game by scoring those big goals.
“With what’s happened the last couple of years, I don’t think there’s any doubt Jonathan Toews is the best two-way player in the National Hockey League. His value on any team is probably measured even more so with the respect he commands — how he makes the game a little safer when he’s on the ice.”
As intangibles go, the uncanniness of Toews is becoming a not-so-secret weapon for the Blackhawks. It’s probably not a coincidence that Toews was so quiet in last year’s opening series against the Minnesota Wild — he didn’t score his first point until the Game 5 clincher — but was a huge factor with three goals and seven points in a much more treacherous series against the Blues.
Toews usually speaks loudest when he is needed most. With his game-winning goal in Game 6 against the Blues, Toews now has 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 13 potential series clinching games for the Blackhawks.
In 2009 against the Canucks, Toews had one point and was a minus-4 in the first five games. But with a chance to clinch in Game 6, Toews had two goals and an assist in a 7-5 victory — including the game-winning goal in the third period when he was centering the puck to Patrick Sharp and it deflected off Alexander Edler into the Canucks’ net.
The following season the Canucks stole a game in Chicago to go to Vancouver tied 1-1. Toews had eight points (three goals, five assists) in Hawks victories in Games 3 and 4 in Vancouver that gave them a commanding 3-1 series lead. In a turning-point moment in Game 4, Keith dumped the puck in the Canucks zone, it bounded around the boards, deflected off Ryan Kesler’s skate and into the slot — a “crazy carom” as Olczyk said on the television broadcast — where Toews opportunistically pounded it home to give the Hawks a 3-2 lead they would not lose.
At 26, Toews still is getting better — capitalizing on crazy caroms and golden opportunities as much as ever. His calm, collected pass to Bryan Bickell led to the tying goal with 1:16 to play in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins that set the stage for Bolland’s game-winner 17 seconds later. In his last nine playoff games, Toews has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) and is a plus-9.
“It seems like good things always happen to him,” said Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who played with Toews at North Dakota. “You look at his track record and what he’s done and the teams he’s led — goals go in for him and he works hard to get them. It seems like guys that work hard and are honest players get the favorable bounces.”