CHICAGO -- The lasting image for the Chicago Blackhawks in their Game 4 loss to the Minnesota Wild in this Western Conference Second Round series was captain Jonathan Toews showing the rarest hint of frustration, banging his stick sharply while he slumped back to the bench after being negated by Minnesota's stifling defense.
Forty-eight hours later, the lasting image for the Blackhawks was of Toews being mobbed by teammates after he scored what proved to be the winning goal in a 2-1 victory in Game 5 at United Center on Sunday night that again gives Chicago control of the best-of-7 series.
Center - CHI
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 10
SOG: 20 | +/-: 5
The Blackhawks lead the series 3-2 and can clinch a berth in a second straight Western Conference Final with a win at Xcel Energy Center in Game 6 on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS).
They are in a position to clinch because their captain and most important player found a way to deliver in the clutch yet again, scoring the go-ahead goal in the second period, one that stood up for the final 30 minutes of the game and gave Chicago a much-needed win and injection of confidence.
"He's unbelievable," said Chicago forward Marian Hossa, who had the primary assist on the goal by Toews. "That's why he's a superstar. He's a great leader on and off the ice. He finds a way to score big goals. Tonight was a great example."
For too long in this series, Toews had been muted.
In 43 minutes and 18 seconds of ice during Games 3 and 4 in Minnesota, Toews managed four mostly ineffectual shots and was a minus-2. Wild center Mikko Koivu was hounding him everywhere in the Chicago attacking zone, giving him no room to breathe. If he wiggled free, Ryan Suter was the next line of defense. He happens to be one of the best defensemen in the League.
It was not an easy go of it, and Toews was not happy by any means with what he had produced while Minnesota was winning back-to-back games to claw back into this series.
"I think there are moments when you get ticked off and emotion takes over," Toews said. "I don't think that is a bad thing. You want a little bit of that when you don't put up the effort you want on the road. We kind of let them back in [the series]. I don't think there is such a thing as frustration getting to us. Like I said, there were tough moments and we overcame them and just kept playing."
The toughest moment likely came when Minneosta's Erik Haula opened the scoring in the first period with a brilliant individual effort. The team which scores first had won each of the first four games of the series. Plus, Chicago managed six shots in the period.
So, there were, by the admission of several Chicago players, some frayed nerves and short tempers during the first intermission. On a championship team, that is a recipe for corrective action and that is what the Blackhawks did. Things were said during the 18-minute break, winning principles were re-established.
And, not surprisingly, the Blackhawks played their best period of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring the tying goal on a Bryan Bickell deflection and managing a series-best 15 shots.
Slowly, the top line for Chicago – Toews, Hossa and Patrick Sharp – started taking over the game. It was the first time those three players had been together for an extended look since the beginning of March.
"It didn't take very long to get it going again," Toews said, cracking a rare smile. "We were creating chances and we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We were throwing the pucks down deep into the zone, we were getting pucks back to our D, all that stuff. I think we picked up where we left off. It's nice to see that if we get a little consistency in our lines, the three of us can generate something."
They generated the winning goal with an impressive cycle. Hossa started it and Sharp got the first shot. Hossa got a second shot, putting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov under more duress and then the rebound squibbed to the left of the goalie and there was Toews to be "Johnny on the Spot" and slam the puck home, past the lunging Bryzgalov and a desperate stick-save attempt by defenseman Nate Prosser.
The five players on the ice celebrated. The sold-out crowd danced to "Chelsea Dagger" and the Blackhawks were on their way to winning another big game.
Just like that, all was right in the world of the Chicago captain again.