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Jonathan Toews did not win the game for the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night. But it felt like he might have turned the series.
His second-period goal off Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard's mask was the Hawks' third goal in a 4-1 Game 5 victory to keep the Western Conference semifinals and their season alive heading into Game 6 in Detroit Monday night.
Toews was as mentally battered Game 3 as we have ever seen him in, with three penalties -- two for high-sticking -- in one six-minute span in the second period. He could also have been called for slashing Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg while an official stood between them.
Worse was that while Zetterberg has been the best all-around player for Detroit, Toews had not scored a goal in the playoffs to that point.
If you don't think seeing their captain and their rock in such a shaky state affected the Hawks as a team, then you haven't been watching the positive effect he has had over them for the past six years.
|Jonathan Toews' all-around game earned him his first-ever Selke Trophy this season.|
And if you don't think it was getting to Toews, then you didn't see the customary fist pump accompanied by a leap into the boards as his teammates jumped him Saturday.
"It's just nice to see one go in," Toews said of the power-play goal, which he wristed off Howard's facemask and into the upper right corner of the net at 15:47 of the second, his first goal since April 21, 2012, in Phoenix, a scoreless playoff streak of 10 games. "You work so hard for so many games -- not only for yourself, but your linemates, the guys out there with you -- and it builds your confidence.
"I don't care who you are, when you see it go in, you feel like you can do it again, and that's a feeling not only within myself, but with the team right now."
Hawks fans had not even glimpsed their team lacking in confidence this season until it lost Games 2, 3 and 4 to the Wings, Chicago's first three-game losing streak of the year. Suddenly, they looked not at all like the team that had played so brilliantly, but a team as vulnerable as a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series would suggest.
And while winning Game 5 and reclaiming its power play does not guarantee a new Hawks team will have an easy time of it in Detroit Monday night, this is a group that takes its cue from its captain. And its captain was looking and feeling like a new man late Saturday night.
"It was great," said Andrew Shaw, whose two goals, one on the power play, were the difference on the scoreboard. "You could just see the excitement on [Toews'] face. He needed it. He's been competing and battling. It's not like he's been playing bad. He's been playing unbelievable, and it was just nice to see him get rewarded tonight."
Bryan Bickell agreed that Toews' relief was obvious.
"It was nice to see him have a smile on his face instead of the, 'Oh, I've been working hard but it hasn't been working,'" Bickell said.
Though Toews has contributed in other ways, he admitted it was getting to him.
"For sure, I put more pressure on myself just considering that we only scored two goals in three games, and you feel in big-time situations, you need to find ways to do something, and if you do, it's going to give your team energy," he said.
"I didn't necessarily want to change my game too much, and a lot of people thought that maybe I got away from it in the last game. Of course you want to play with emotion, but I just wanted to stay with it. I've been saying it over and over the last couple days that if you stay positive and stick with it, that things have to turn your way eventually, and they did tonight."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville tried to shake things up a bit by putting Toews on the same line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. It didn't hurt that with the right to final line change, the Hawks rarely had Toews on the ice with Zetterberg in Game 5. While Howard made 41 saves, the odds obviously came out in the Hawks' favor.
"Good things come from shooting the puck," Shaw said. Good things also come from a relentlessness and energy the Hawks brought to the ice Saturday night, and momentum they hope fuels their captain's psyche.
"It's a relief, a confidence-builder," Toews said of his mini-breakthrough. "You know what you're doing out there and the way you're working is adding up to something, and I want to keep that going now.
"I feel like if I keep shooting the puck, that it has a good chance of going in and the goaltender has to make the stop. And that's a good feeling to have."