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First goal of playoffs eases pressure on Toews

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks
Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews will probably address the media on Sunday afternoon before his team travels to Detroit for Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals. If not, he'll almost certainly be in front of a throng of television cameras and reporters holding microphones or recording devices near his face.

He is the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, so he is expected to meet with the media and answers their questions more frequently than a typical NHL player.

When he does, whether it is Sunday or Monday or both days, the line of questions will not include, "Are you frustrated?" or "Do you feel more pressure?" That's because Toews did something he had done 167 times in the regular season and 16 times before Saturday night at United Center.

Toews scored a goal.

This one was different, because it came in the 10th game of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Blackhawks – and he had not done so in the first nine contests. It also proved to be a key insurance goal in a 4-1 victory in Game 5.

"It's nice to see one go in," Toews said. "You work so hard for so many games. Not only yourself, but your linemates -- the guys that are out there with you. It builds your confidence. I don't care who you are. When you see one go in, you feel like you can do it again. That's the feeling not only with myself, but with our team right now."

The chances had been there in past games. He had put a shot off the crossbar. Opposing goaltenders, including Detroit's Jimmy Howard in this series, had made key saves on shots that might have otherwise gone in.

There had been 32 shots on goal and several others that had just missed before Toews' breakthrough.

"For sure I put more pressure on myself, considering that we had only scored two goals in three games," Toews said. "You feel like in big-time situations, you need to do something and it is going to give your team some energy. I don't necessarily want to change my game too much. A lot of people thought I did last game. Of course you want to play with emotion, but you want to just stay with it. I've been saying it over and over again the last couple days that if you be positive and stick with it, things have turn your way eventually and it did tonight."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been asked the same questions as well. Days turned into weeks, but his message about his captain was always the same -- he's getting chances so the coach wasn't worried.

Having great opportunities to score and not doing it might be frustrating for an elite player, but not creating those moments in a game is a far bigger problem.

"I thought [Toews] if you look at his last couple games, I really thought he played a lot of great shifts and did a lot of good things in the last few games with nothing to show for it just like he had probably this whole playoffs," Quenneville said. "A lot of times they measure your top guys on production and it is obviously nice for him to get that one. That line was dangerous and effective in a lot of ways. I'm sure in the scoring areas going forward, the patience and comfort level in those areas and the play recognition probably will be a little bit more comfortable for him."

Among those good things that Toews did in Game 5 before scoring the goal was win a key faceoff at the start of an earlier power play that led to Andrew Shaw's game-winning goal. He also won a faceoff to start the next power play, and that was when he struck.

The puck went back to defenseman Duncan Keith, who fired a shot toward the net. It was blocked, and a clearing attempt was made, but Keith kept the puck t in the offensive zone. Eventually he moved toward the left point from the right, and then sent the puck back to Marian Hossa in his old position.

Hossa faked a shot and then sent it toward the corner to Toews. He did not have the traditional angle to shoot from -- a little higher up in the faceoff circle -- but that might have played to his advantage. Toews had time and shot the puck high; it went off Howard and into the net, just below the crossbar.

"I think maybe their goaltender knew we had guys who were down low," Toews said. "I think maybe [defenseman Brent Seabrook] was creeping down toward the goal line on the other side and I was think he was maybe expecting a pass. I just tried to put it on net. Sometimes where you shoot low or high, you'll get a second opportunity. I just got a little lucky too.

"We have all five guys just hounding the puck, playing relentless hockey and that's how we create chances. We brought that on the power play twice in a row and look what happens. We got pucks in the zone, we kept plays alive and we kept shooting it. Eventually pucks are going to go in, so we played as competitively as we did five-on-five. If you do that and you create chances they have to go in eventually."

Author: Corey Masisak | Staff Writer

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