ATLANTA -- The scene in the dressing room Saturday night told the whole story.
The normally serious-minded captain of the Chicago Blackhawks was openly asking his teammates if he should wear the championship wrestling belt they give out to the player of the game when the Hawks win.
Jonathan Toews took the entertaining route and slung it over his shoulder during postgame interviews, knowing it doesn’t come his way very often.
“I think it’s my second time,” Toews said of winning the belt. “I forgot what it feels like. It feels pretty good though.”
Toews had a huge game in the Hawks’ 5-4 shootout victory over Atlanta at Philips Arena. His two goals, two assists, and shootout tally, earned him the No. 1 star of the game. And it helped earn the Hawks a much needed win.
Toews was tight-lipped after Saturday morning’s practice, when coach Joel Quenneville abruptly pulled the team off the ice, but he said after the game his coach’s actions made a difference.
“It had to,” Toews said. “That motivation should be coming from our own locker room. We should know when to light that fire. It was a wake-up call. The way we practice and the way we prepare carries over to games.”
“It was definitely my best game of the year,” Kane said. “There has been a lot of motivation to get it going around here. It’s nice to chip in a few there.”
Kane finished with eight shots and had several chances in the third period to get the hat trick, but couldn’t convert. Like most of the fans, Quenneville has been waiting for a night like this from his stars.
“They had a great game,” Quenneville said. “Good response from our leadership. Nice to see them produce, but at the same time I thought they were really committed to the team and doing what we had to do to be successful.”
Quenneville said there are no plans to change that line unless things south quickly. That’s good news for Stalberg.
“It’s not hard playing with Kaner and Toews,” Stalberg said. “Two of the best players in the game today. I think I fit pretty well with them out there.”
Toews’ best play may have been with his foot. He beat the Atlanta defense to a puck lying behind the net at the feet of Thrashers goalie Andrej Pavelec. He stole it with a kick to Kane out in front and Kane buried it to tie the game at 4-4. On this night, he led by example in a game he needed to have.
Is this the start of a run for the young Hawks’ mega-stars? A team and a city have been waiting for them to take off and Saturday’s game might just be the starting point.
“We feel like we’ve been getting a lot of chances,” Toews said. “If we can start burying those chances we can start making a difference in some of these games. I think we did that tonight.”