By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) There’s something that’s not quite right with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Losing an overtime game to the Minnesota Wild is no cause for panic in a seven-game series. One loss in a playoff series often serves as a wake-up call for the better team – which the Blackhawks certainly are – and it also tends to satisfy the overmatched opponent.
I knew we could do it. I knew we could win a game.
Joel Quenneville gets a chance to ride his team hard in practice after a loss and that means that the Blackhawks should come out hungry and strong for Game 4. Even if the Wild match them in effort and intensity at the start of the game, the Blackhawks will wear them down.
Here’s a road map of how the game should go: The Blackhawks will open the scoring but the home team will tie it before the end of the first. In the second, the Blackhawks lock down Minnesota’s less-than-ferocious offense and they score a goal in the last 10 minutes to take the lead.
They stretch that lead to 4-1 in the third and give up a goal in the NHL’s version of garbage time. Final score: 4-2, Blackhawks.
News flash: Predictions from columnists don’t always come true.
There are x-factors that often interfere with even the most obvious prognostications. In the case of the Blackhawks and the Wild, there is one x-factor that is quite troubling.
Jonathan Toews has a scoring line of 0-0-0 in the first three games.
In some ways, the fact that the Blackhawks have managed a 2-1 series lead even though Toews has yet to impact the scoring column is comforting.
Just wait until Toews gets going, then the Blackhawks will really start to motor.
But the bigger is issue is why Toews hasn’t done anything to this point in the series. The Wild are trying to make sure stellar defenseman Ryan Suter is on the ice when Toews jumps on, but that should not be the deciding factor.
Suter can do it all and should have the strength and skill to limit a star like Toews, but not shut him down completely.
So don’t give Suter too much credit. Much of it falls on Toews. He is the captain of the best team in the NHL, a player who knows how to turn up the intensity and produce in a big-time manner when his team needs him most.
Toews is a legitimate MVP candidate this year and he is the best player on the team. If you take a look at the other real Stanley Cup contenders in the NHL, all of those teams have superstars who can take over a game.
Sidney Crosby is the most spectacular player, but he doesn’t have the defensive presence of Toews. Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins has the same kind of impact as Toews, but he can’t match the Blackhawks’ star in offensive skill.
Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks is a skilled player, but he doesn’t play the full three-zone game that Toews does on an every-night basis. He has been getting destroyed in the faceoff circle in the first four games of the playoffs. Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings plays with a similar effort to Toews, but he is simply not as effective on a night-in, night-out basis.
The Blackhawks are almost certainly going to turn it up a notch or two in Game 4 in an attempt to keep the Wild from feeling even better about themselves.
Their track record this season says they will do just that. But they need their best player to be the best player on the ice.
They need a goal and an assist from Toews and he needs to continue to win 60 percent of his face-offs.
Unless there’s something wrong with Toews that we don’t know about – and there’s no indication of injury – it’s time for Toews to assert himself and put his stamp on this series.
The fourth game of the series would be a great time for Toews to put it into overdrive.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.