Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews welcomes the pressure of needing to come back against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final.
Toews, who was the Blackhawks’ leading scorer during the regular season (28-38-66 though he played in 20 more games than the injured Patrick Kane), and scored twice against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, has not found the back of the net in the first three games of Chicago's series against Tampa Bay. The former first-round pick in the 2006 NHL draft has just one assist and eight shots on goal.
So on Tuesday, when the assembled media’s questions turned to why he wasn’t having much offensive success, Toews made it clear that he welcomed that attention and pressure.
“It's exciting,” he said. “If you don’t want that challenge, if you don’t want that spotlight, then you shouldn’t be here.
“That’s the great thing about playing this time of year, is there’s a lot to lose, there’s a lot on the line. That’s why we play the game. That’s what it’s all about.”
And because Toews has yet to overcome the Lightning’s challenge, at least in the first three games of the series, he admitted that he has felt some frustration.
“As far as scoring goals and contributing the way I know I can, yeah, it’s frustrating, it’s tough when it doesn’t happen, but you just keep going and have confidence that eventually something will happen and work out in your favor.
“As long as we’re playing smart two-way hockey, we’re creating, bringing energy, eventually something’s got to tip. I think that’s the way we’re looking at it right now.”
Though Toews and Kane (no points on six shots) are failing to show up on the stat sheet with their usual frequency, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville did note that the two veterans, along with their Stanley Cup-winning teammates, have been helping other players in the dressing room who haven’t been in this situation before with the Cup at stake.
“We’ve got a great core of leaders,” Quenneville said. “They're competitive as heck. They find a way to get better each and every game. They make guys around them better. They have accountability internally. They demonstrate that by how they compete. Guys seem to follow. I think that's the best recipe for a coach to have. These guys come ready to play and find ways to win.”
Chicago's vaunted experience and leadership has shown itself in the way the Blackhawks finish off playoff series. Under Quenneville, the Blackhawks are 30-30 during Games 1 through 3, but an outstanding 40-14 in Games 4 through 7. Toews said he wasn’t sure why that was the case, but his team’s success in those later games is the reason why he and the other Hawks have the confidence that they can turn the tide of this series.
But beyond the numbers, Toews acknowledged that his past playoff experience has helped him emotionally as well.
“Earlier in my career…the emotions are so high, so low,” he said. “One day you win a game in the first round, you get that feeling you're going all the way to the Cup, nothing can stop you. The next day you lose, all of a sudden that thought crosses your mind, ‘Better luck next year, that’s the way it’s going to go.’
“I think now you have that experience, you’ve played a lot of those games, you realize you don’t have to kind of ride the rollercoaster that way.”
Now, after the Lightning reclaimed home-ice advantage on Monday night, Toews and the Blackhawks will need to use that experience on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA) to avoid facing an even deeper hole when the series shifts back to Tampa on Saturday.
“We have confidence when we get in those situations that we can take it one game at a time, focus on the next game, continue to put pressure on the other team,” Toews said.
“It happens sometimes. You’re up against good teams that are working hard, doing all the right things. You're not always going to be in complete control of a series. We’ve been up in series, we’ve been down in some series, especially this year. Here we are down 2-1. I think we’re confident we can go out there and find a way to even it up tomorrow night.”