It’s why many people believe that Winnipeg’s own Jonathan Toews is the best all-around player in hockey. He plays a solid two-way game, leads his team on and off the ice, logs 18-20 minutes a game and scores when his team needs him most. In fact, Toews just scored the 10th playoff game-winner of his career.
On Sunday night, that’s what the man known as “Capt. Serious” gave his defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Toews jammed home a loose, bouncing puck at 4:33 of the third period and that’s all it took. Jonny Hockey’s goal made it 2-1 and the Blackhawks had enough to beat the Minnesota Wild.
Now, the two teams will head back to the Xcel Energy Centre in St. Paul for Game 6 in a series that is already much closer than any pundit imagined.
Sunday night at the Madhouse on Madison, Bryan Bickell and Toews banged home pucks laying bare at the edge of the crease as the Hawks beat the Wild 2-1 to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinal. Toews was the best player on the ice and was named the game’s first star for the third time in this series.
The game was as close as the score indicated: each team had 28 shots and each team had 14 legitimate scoring chances. According to the NHL’s advanced stats, Chicago had the puck 56 per cent of the time, but they didn’t do all that much with it. In fact, the extra possession time might have had more to do with the fact that Chicago had two power plays to Minnesota’s one.
To call this close, would be like calling winter cold. Five-on-five, it was a 1-1 tie. If not for Bickell’s power play goal, we might still be watching this one. Then again, Toews scored the winner – as he’s prone to do – and Chicago is now one win away from a trip to the Western final.
“It stinks to lose a game like this, and obviously when you lose, you’re frustrated, you’re mad,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo during his televised post-game news conference. “But I think there’s been enough in this series where we should feel confident still. That said, we also recognize that we’d better be ready.”
When the Hawks took a 2-1 lead, even with 15 ½ minutes left to play, you just had this sense you’d seen the final goal of a close-checking evening. Of course, it’s not like Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville didn’t know his team had survived a game that could have gone either way.
“Especially against that team, it’s tough to manufacture a goal five-on-five,” Quenneville said during his televised post-game news conference. “Our power-play goal was one those get something at the net shot mentality, have a big presence, and get a break. We got that. You’re not going to score pretty goals. That’s what ignited our second period. That’s the recipe for success going forward. That’s how you’re going to score.”
So now it’s back to Minnesota and Game 6 at the Fuse Box. If Sunday night’s affair was any indication, expect a Game 7.
Unless of course, the greatest hockey player ever to come from Winnipeg has other ideas.