Jonathan Toews leads way, but other Blackhawks must follow

SHARE Jonathan Toews leads way, but other Blackhawks must follow

TAMPA, Fla. —Most of his teammates have to be dragged to the interview room during the playoffs and many don’t even try to hide their disinterest. But Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was there again, Friday —front-and-center, flanked by Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjlmarsson on the dais at the downtown Hilton.

It’s not a fun part of the job —even Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper took a “mental break” day off Thursday and let assistant Rick Bowness handle his media interview. But, while Toews doesn’t enjoy basking in the limelight, he takes his role as captain seriously. And this is one of those moments.

That’s why Toews was there to do the dirty work for the seventh straight day and 10th out of 11 since media day kicked off the Stanley Cup Final on June 2. The series is decided on the ice, but don’t discount the importance of Toews’ firm, steady voice helping guide the Hawks through this.

Toews is one of several established leaders on the Hawks. But at a critical point in the Stanley Cup Final — tied with the Lightning 2-2 heading into Game 5 at Amalie Arena on Saturday night, Toews’ knack for making a difference in some way that looms as a key factor in a series that is as tight as it could be.

“I think for either team to win, it comes down to your best players being at their best and making the difference,” Toews said. “So … I expect that out of myself. So do these two guys sitting with me [Keith and Hjalmarsson] and so do the rest of our team.

“I’m not the only one in that room that thinks that way, or thinks as an individual you need to raise your game to make a difference. We all think that way. That’s a huge reason why we’ve made it this far.”

It’s overstating it to call Toews a trump card, but his history of coming through in clutch moments can’t be denied. Most recently, his two goals in the first period against the Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference final set the tone for a 5-3 victory that got them here.

“I know we’re fortunate to have him,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s a special player. He’s a great leader. He’s got tremendous character. We always talk about the bigger the setting, the bigger the stage, he rises to that challenge.

“Our team rises to big games and big settings as well. We like the way we progress in series. We need to be better in this series. We’re expecting our team to be better [in Game 5]. We’ve got our captain who generally and always does lead the charge.”

The series could depend on how many follow Toews’ lead. At the top of the list are three top scorers without a goal in this series: Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.

Quenneville has moved Sharp, who has not scored a goal in 13 consecutive games, from the third line to the top line with Toews and Hossa — a previously effective combination. Kane is paired on the second line with Brandon Saad and Brad Richards.

“I think with [Sharp] having that familiarity and the success that they had last year was part of that,” Quenneville said. “We’re looking to get production across the board … with Sodder getting a chance to be with Kaner was part of that as well. Just having a bit more balance in our lines was the motivation. I thought Sharpie did a real good job and that line was dangerous.”

The Latest
The boy was near a sidewalk about 4:05 p.m. in the 13100 block of South St. Lawrence Avenue when he was shot in the chest.
“This expo not only gives women information, but it also gives them confidence,” said Merry Green, the Expo’s founder.
Wisdom has been playing first base more regularly as the Cubs’ infield undergoes a late-season shuffle.
One man died and three other people were injured about 1:15 a.m. Sunday when they were shot and their vehicle crashed on Interstate 88 in Oak Brook, police said.