By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — The game of hockey, with its inherent randomness, can be won or lost with the smallest margins or efforts.
The Blackhawks know that all too well, whether it’s the millimeters they were from the game-winning goal — reviewed and ruled no goal — in the overtime period of what would become a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes or the countless times they were victorious with a break like they didn’t get Monday at United Center.
Such minute margins can be created, too; it doesn’t just come from fortune. Take, for example, a play in the third period that led to the overtime madness at the Madhouse and one important point Chicago earned.
Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson skated behind goaltender Mike Smith’s net, seemingly free to clear the puck from the Coyotes’ defensive zone. With a burst of speed trailing the play, Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews gave a forecheck to the defenseman while sliding the puck loose.
From there, Towes dished to Marian Hossa in the slot, and he put one past Smith. The United Center exploded as Chicago tied it up, with Hossa scoring his second goal on his bobblehead night. He immediately rushed to Toews for a celebration, and rightfully so.
There aren’t hockey terms to describe the play Toews made. Corsi metrics don’t measure plays like these. Maybe this is what Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville refers to with clichés like “energy” or “momentum” or even the playful “sandpaper” that nobody quite understands.
Toews has 15 goals and 29 assists in another All-Star season, but he doesn’t get credit for effort plays like these. It’s what makes him different than the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, with whom he’s often compared.
When the 26-year-old Toews eventually hangs up the skates for good, his legacy will be the Stanley Cup championship banners hanging from United Center’s rafters. He’s responsible for two — one in 2010, another in 2013 — and it seems a fair bet that he’ll hoist the Cup again in his career.
In a game filled with little breaks and bounces, two championships are remarkable. Toews could’ve well had a third had the Los Angeles Kings not deflected a puck off of Nick Leddy and past Corey Crawford in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals last June. If only the Blackhawks could have that bounce back.
Through the panic of sluggish recent play from Chicago comes reality in the form of a forecheck. The Blackhawks want so desperately to add another banner, led by their captain, Toews. They have the talent for another title, but it takes effort, too. Countless skilled teams have crumbled because of this.
When playoff time comes around and a summer with Stanley is on the line, the Blackhawks often make the winning play. Toews is a winner to the core, the kind of player scouts dream of finding. The game rewards those who fight for its slim margins.
On Monday, hockey was cruel to the Blackhawks. A game Chicago seemed to have won was lost, decided by a matter of inches. Had it not been for the effort of Toews, none of this would’ve happened. The final horn would’ve sounded after three periods, United Center organist Frank Pellico would’ve played the fans out to a somber tune and an important point would’ve been lost.
Toews brings a tireless work ethic and unparalleled drive to a city once starved for hockey success. His demeanor is infectious in the Blackhawks’ locker room.
Lord Stanley’s prize will soon by at stake. The Blackhawks will fight to turn each minor margin into another championship for Chicago, led by Toews like always.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.