ANAHEIM, Calif. — Joel Quenneville pushed the button, and the “nuclear option” of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane did the rest.
Toews and Kane made Quenneville look like a genius again Saturday night. Toews scored two huge first-period goals and Kane had three assists to lead the Hawks to a 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference final at the Honda Center.
“There’s no two guys I’d rather have on my team coming into a big game,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “They have that ability to rise to the occasion and just find a way no matter what. You know they’re going to get it done. They’re going to find a way. I think that rubs off on a lot of guys.”
Toews set the tone in the decisive game scoring twice in the first 12 minutes of the game — one on a rebound, the other on the power play — to give the Hawks a critical early lead.
“He gets a lot of credit for what he does besides scoring goals — and then he goes out there and gets two quick ones to kind of calm things down,” teammate Patrick Sharp said. “It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve watched him since he was a rookie and watched him grow up over the years.”
Almost on cue, Toews produced when the Hawks needed him the most. After failing to score a goal in the first three games as the Hawks fell behind 2-1 in the conference final, Toews scored five goals in the final four games.
It was a virtuoso performance by the heralded Toews, who scored five goals in the final four games of the series. In 15 series-clinching games in his Hawks career, Toews has scored 23 points (eight goals, 15 points) and is a plus-seven.
So this wasn’t a big surprise.
“Not at all,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s an amazing person, an amazing hockey player. The bigger the stage, the set-up, he seems to excel. He’s as good of a leader [as there is] in any sport.”
The Hawks were struggling to find their rhythm early in the game when Toews struck first — scoring on a rebound of Niklas Hjalmsarsson’s shot for a 1-0 lead just 2:23 into the game He added a power-play goal for a 2-0 lead with 8:05 left in the first period.
“It’s Game 7. It’s winner take all,” Toews said. “We wanted to have a big start — whether we took the lead or not was a big part in us trying to take away their energy — not letting them dictate the game for 60 minutes.”
Teammates and opponents could only marvel at the way Toews, Kane and the other Hawks veterans came through again in a key game and in critical moments.
“You always know how good it is, but it’s impressive to watch it every day,” said forward Brad Richards, a former Conn Smythe winner with the Lightning in 2004. “It’s not just [Toews], but he’s special. He’s done it on big stages, internationally and the Stanley Cup.
“And you’ve got Kaner who can do some special stuff. Duncan Keith is one of the best players I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing how these guys keep stepping up.”
It was a tough loss for Ducks center Ryan Kesler, Toews’ rival and nemesis. He beat Toews in a Game 7 with the Canucks in 2011 and battled him throughout this series. But after Toews got he upper hand, he wasn’t about to join in on the latest celebration of another big Toews moment.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked about battling Toews. “I didn’t play against him tonight so I can’t answer that question.”
But teammate Andrew Cogliano gave the Hawks’ captain — and their veteran core of stars — their due.
“The key to beating this team is shutting down guys like Toews and Kane. They were the difference,” Cogliano said. “The first goal would have been huge to get in this game. It would have put them on their heels a little bit. That’s why Jonny’s one of the best players in the league. He got that goal and it seemed like they just didn’t look back.”