Jonathan Toews’ actions during Sunday night’s contest and his words to reporters shortly thereafter reached equal decibels.
After nabbing the secondary assist on a 3-3 equalizer and inserting the eventual decider in a 5-3 triumph over Nashville, the Chicago Blackhawks captain told the United Center press corps, “First and foremost, our No. 1 goal coming in every season is we want to make the playoffs.”
That’s just what they did with Sunday’s victory, and they did it without fail.
The Blackhawks were bound to stamp their passport to the 2013 Stanley Cup tournament at some point this calendar week. Maybe they would have done it in their own right or maybe they would have had it completed for them by teams below the playoff line losing.
It wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world if the latter scenario came to fruition, which was almost made possible on Sunday night. David Legwand, a veteran on a desperate Predators team that is five points and five spots out of the playoff picture, gave the visitors a 3-2 advantage with 13:06 to spare in regulation.
Had Nashville held on, thus avenging a 1-0 loss to the Hawks the day prior, Chicago could have simply banked on the ninth-place Phoenix Coyotes losing in regulation or a shootout to Vancouver on Monday. That would have been enough to secure the Blackhawks’ playoff credentials even before they took the ice again.
Or, had the Blackhawks lost Sunday and the Coyotes won Monday, Chicago would have had its second chance to clinch its spot in its own right with a Tuesday night visit to Minnesota.
Had Chicago lost on Sunday, the missed opportunity would have ultimately been forgotten once the delayed clinching process was complete. At least, it would have been forgotten by the vast majority of outside observers but not necessarily any of the Blackhawks’ dressing room inhabitants.
That’s just how hungry this team is, and its exemplary leader proved it with his productive play around the halfway mark of the third period—and all within four minutes of Legwand’s go-ahead strike.
In the ninth minute of the closing frame, Toews and his linemates broke the puck out and set up an attack that culminated in Toews thrusting the puck out from behind the cage and Brandon Saad burying the evening’s third equalizer.
One minute and one shift later, the captain reversed his role, stepping up at the top of the far circle to absorb a feed from Patrick Kane and snap it home. The lead and the momentum were Chicago’s once more nearing the climactic phases of the game.
By shaking off and kicking ice chips over all preceding blunders, Toews and the Blackhawks took full advantage of one of their first playoff simulations.
Given that they had something extra to gain, it was the first regular-season equivalent of an opportunity to close out an opponent in a best-of-seven series. It was quite fitting that it came against a team fighting to salvage its playoff viability.
They could have waited until the virtual Game 5 or 6, but they wouldn’t settle for that. The Predators may have shown earlier on that they needed this more, but Chicago chose to reiterate that it is a mightier, worthier team.
Blackhawks buffs should watch for more of this fastidious hunger as additional clinching scenarios approach. The next pre-playoff stakes will come on the block in the form of the Central Division title, first place in the Western Conference and home ice for the entire playoffs.