Silverman: Toews Finds His Game Just When Blackhawks Need Him Most
By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Blackhawks got the game they needed if they are going to win the Stanley Cup.
They got the road win in Boston that gives them a chance to win the Stanley Cup if they can win two of the last three games of the series.
While the Bruins showed plenty of fight and firepower in coming back from one- and two-goal deficits all night long, the Blackhawks were the better team. They did not “steal” this road win. They earned it by skating harder and faster and forcing the formidable Bruins into mistakes.
Full marks must go to Jonathan Toews, who had the weight of the world lifted off of his shoulders when he scored a tie-breaking goal in the second period on a redirection of a Michal Roszival shot from the point.
Toews admitted he had been thinking of “nothing else” but putting the puck in the net and he got his wish. But even though he had been obsessing about the lone goal he had scored prior to Game 4, Toews had never ignored any of his areas of responsibility.
Toews played a hard, physical game, and picked up his level considerably over his Game 3 performance. Start off with his showing in the faceoff circle. Instead of getting taken to school by Patrice Bergeron, Toews actually won 8-of-15 draws against the best faceoff man in the league.
Toews didn’t stop there. He also took it to big defenseman Zdeno Chara, who had a rare off-night as he was on the ice for five Blackhawks goals and was minus-3 on the night. If Toews didn’t know it before, he knows it now: You can get the edge on 6’9” defenseman by hitting him before he has a chance to lower his shoulder and initiate contact.
If Toews or any other Blackhawk comes in on a stationary Chara, leverage can be used to drive him off the puck. If Chara is in the corner or trying to hold his spot in front of the net, he’s much easier to contend with then when he’s on the move. It’s simply a matter of physics.
Through four games, neither team has figured anything out. The Blackhawks have nailed down two of the four requisite wins needed to claim the Stanley Cup and so have the Bruins.
Don’t expect to see any more shootouts like the two teams put on display Wednesday night. The Bruins made too many mistakes for head coach Claude Julien’s liking and Joel Quenneville could not have been happy about all the counter-attack goals his team gave up.
If the game slows down too much, the series will shift in the Bruins’ favor. Their size, strength and positioning will come back to the forefront. The Blackhawks need to keep the pace up, but they can’t do it at the expense of their defensive set-up either.
The problem with playing at a high speed is that defensemen get exposed and so do goaltenders. Nick Leddy barely could get on the ice because Quenneville couldn’t trust him. He can’t be happy with Niklas Hjalmarsson either, since he was minus-3 on the night and was shaky every time he had the puck on his stick.
This is an epic series. Both teams have demonstrated remarkable strengths and exploitable weaknesses.
As the Blackhawks return home, they have to be concerned with Corey Crawford. The Bruins are targeting his glove every chance they get and they have been successful at it. If Crawford can’t make the big glove save, it is going to continue to haunt him through the last three games of the series.
That’s one thing that Quenneville really can’t do anything about. If his goalie can’t catch the puck, that could be an issue as the Blackhawks fight for those final two victories.
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.