Jonathan Toews Delivers When Blackhawks Need Him Most in Game 5 Win over Wild

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Jonathan Toews Delivers When Blackhawks Need Him Most in Game 5 Win over Wild
Bill Smith/Getty Images

Among hardcore Chicago Blackhawks fans, it might go down as "The Shift." 

Hey hockey fans, go back and watch the entire shift by Jonathan Toews, the one in which he willed the Blackhawks to a game-winning third-period goal and subsequent 3-2 Western Conference Semifinals lead on the Minnesota Wild. It was Exhibit Z as to why Toews remains the greatest leader in the NHL today.

Here's the thing that made it so much impressive: Toews' goal, which broke a 1-1 tie and stood up as the difference, came at the end of a long shift. By my calculation, thanks to DVR, Toews and linemates Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp came onto the ice with 16:25 left in the period. Nino Niederreiter of the Wild nearly scored on a break-in bid from the right side with 16:13 left, and Toews came down the right side after that but had the play broken up, and back down the ice came the Wild with 15:58 left. By this time, this was long skate down the length of the ice No. 3 for Toews and his line.

There was another scary moment for the Hawks, as goalie Corey Crawford almost misplayed a puck behind net, but Sharp came away with it and charged back down the ice. Trip No. 4 now for Sharp-Toews-Hossa, with 15:50 left. 

Bill Smith/Getty Images

Hossa took a Sharp pass and dumped the puck in the Wild zone to the left corner. Toews had to be gassed by this pointon the ice for 40 seconds, with four trips down and backbut what happened next showed why he's still the best in the clutch.

First, he rode Minnesota's Mikael Granlund hard into the boards, knocking Granlund down and off the puck with a perfectly clean check. The United Center crowd roared and the buzz of something good for Chicago started to build.

Ryan Suter, the $98 million defenseman of the Wild who Minnesota fans have lauded through the playoffs with the Twitter hashtag #WorthEveryPenny, was then beaten to a loose puck in the opposite corner by Johnny Oduya, who poked it back down low. Who got to that next loose puck first after Oduya's poke-check? Toews.

He then fed the puck to Hossa, who completely faked out Granlund with a spin move out of the right corner, circled behind the cage and fed Sharp in the left circle, who immediately fired a shot toward Ilya Bryzgalov, who made a kick save that popped the puck into the air. Suter tried to bat it away with his left glove but didn't get much on it, and Hossa put another shot on Breezer. 

The puck was loose in the right side of the crease. Toews had Granlund on his back, but the Chicago captain fought him off and still managed to get control of the puck and put a backhander into the net with 15:27 left. Sixty-two seconds of true grit were complete, and now the Blackhawks are one win away from going to the Western Conference Final for the fourth time in the last six seasons. 

Two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals since 2010 for Toews, and he doesn't appear sated at all just yet, or complacent about the rest of this series. Check out this tweet from Chicago Sun-Times Blackhawks beat writer Mark Lazerus:

Can the Wild come back again from a 3-2 deficit and win a series? Sure they can. But this isn't the young, defensively challenged Colorado Avalanche anymore. The Wild get to go home one more time at least, where they are 5-0 in the postseason. But if the series goes seven, the Wild would take a 1-6 playoff road record into the United Center. And, oh yeah: Chicago is 17-2 at home in the last two playoffs combined, outscoring opponents 63-31.

Here's another intimidating stat for Wild fans, courtesy of Lazerus:

Will the Blackhawks close it out against the Wild Tuesday?

Submit Vote vote to see results

But the Wild are a tough bunch, and Xcel Energy Center will be not be short on decibels Tuesday night.

"Not to worry, the Wild are more than ready to don the Velcro and do battle in Game 6. I'd be shocked if this series didn't go seven games. Maybe eight," wrote St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers after this one. 

I agree with Powers. This thing looks destined for seven. The Wild played a great first period in Game 5 and even had the fans booing the Hawks off the ice. But you just can't let a team with a Toews and a Patrick Kane be just one shot away.

Or, in Toews' case, one 62-second, shift-for-the-ages away.

 

Adrian Dater has covered the NHL for The Denver Post since 1995. Follow him on Twitter @Adater.

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