MONTREAL — The weight of 16 months, 25 games and 45 shots finally lifted off Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews’ shoulders with one deflection of the puck Thursday.
For the first time since Aug. 18, 2020, in the playoff bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, Toews finally scored a goal. Positioned next to Canadiens goalie Jake Allen, he tipped in a shot-pass by Seth Jones on the power play at 13:48 of the second period, giving the Hawks a lead they never would relinquish in an eventual 2-0 victory.
Toews celebrated by raising his stick and arm-hugging Patrick Kane, two things he had done many times before in the course of 390 career regular-season and playoff goals. But this one was slightly more significant.
‘‘It felt good,’’ Toews said. ‘‘It’s definitely a weird thing to have the whole team probably wanting to jump on the ice to celebrate with you. That’s not a good sign.’’
Almost all of Toews’ media appearances this fall have been dominated by questions about — and a lack of answers for — his goal drought, which inched past his previous career long of 13 games on Nov. 7. He had called himself ‘‘not satisfied,’’ ‘‘not happy’’ and basically every other synonym for ‘‘frustrated’’ in the dictionary.
The heaviness with which it was weighing on his confidence was understandable. For a while, as miraculous goalie saves followed shots off the post followed goals negated upon review, he appeared cursed never to score — even though he was generating plenty of chances.
He entered the game Thursday with 45 shots on goal this season, the most among NHL forwards without a goal. Jets forward Blake Wheeler (43) was the only player remotely close.
Toews had been trying to keep the drought off his mind and to keep contributing in other areas. He had done so, to an extent: He leads the Hawks by a mile with a 57.0% winning percentage on faceoffs and ranks fourth in even-strength shot-attempt ratio (50.5) and seventh in even-strength scoring-chance ratio (48.4%). But a sliver of his brain was always aware of that zero in the goal column.
‘‘I don’t think you can ever go out and think of the end result,’’ he said. ‘‘You’ve got to be in the play and stay present with whatever’s going on. . . . You can’t really think of scoring goals; you’ve just got to play hockey. [But] getting that first one definitely helps focus on that process.’’
And outside of games, that sliver of his brain that was focused on the goal drought was more like an entire lobe. He tried to imagine wrist shots and slap shots, intentional deflections and own-goals, wraparounds, rebounds and every other method of scoring.
The way it finally happened — a deflection from a foot away — was hardly highlight-reel material. He didn’t mind that, though.
‘‘I’ve just been trying to get the feel and visualize getting the puck on my stick [and] on the net,’’ he said. ‘‘You have to see yourself scoring goals a lot of different ways, especially when they’re not going in, to try to get over that hump. I’ll take them however I can at this point.’’
When he returned to the bench, he shook his shoulders to throw off the figurative monkey. He later quipped he had ‘‘three or four guys clawing the monkey off’’ for him.
A search for most shots without a goal Friday returned a list with no Toews in sight — just two Hawks teammates, Philipp Kurashev (32) and Ryan Carpenter (28), now in fourth and fifth.
It’s a reminder about just how much the Hawks still need to improve offensively. But at least the rest of the team now has proof that it’s possible.
‘‘Everybody felt relief that [Toews] scored,’’ interim coach Derek King said.