CHICAGO – Of all the things that probably should take Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews out of his element, it seems nothing comes close to the nervousness of losing to his teammates in Nintendo.
While Toews is often one of the Blackhawks’ points leaders, his skills don’t seem to transfer to a classic game of Mario Kart. That’s when the anger and frustration start to show on the 26-year-old’s face. The screaming isn’t far behind.
On the ice, the only emotions he’s shown lately are celebratory, and for good reason. In Chicago’s first-round series against the Blues, Toews returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the final six games of the regular season, and set the pace for the Hawks with three goals and four assists — including an NHL-best three game-winning goals. It’s a rather contrasting stat line from what happened in the first round a year ago.
As the Hawks opened up the playoffs against a retooled Wild team last season, Toews stumbled, and then faded, even as Chicago knocked off Minnesota in five games. There was screaming, and anger and frustration from Toews, who had just two points in the series. Most of which was due to facing Wild forward Zach Parise, his fellow Shattuck-St. Mary’s and North Dakota alum, every shift — a matchup that resumed Friday night when the Hawks defeated the Wild 5-2 in Game 1.
“I think we’re both playing better hockey this year than that first round last year,” Toews said of Parise. “He’s a guy we have to be ready and aware of on the ice. Coming into this series, he created a lot for his team, so he’s going to try to do the same against us.”
Parise proved Toews right early in the third period when he helped set up the Wild’s first goal of the night by Clayton Stoner, making up for a crucial misfire back in the first period.
With the Wild on a four-minute penalty kill, defenseman Nate Prosser hit Parise with a stretch pass straight through the zone, giving the winger a breakaway from the blue line in. Unfortunately, he didn’t see Hawks’ defenseman Nick Leddy charging in behind and got his stick tangled up before getting a clear shot off.
“As far as puck possession and control I think we did a lot of good things,” Parise said. “We always felt like we could win this game. The majority of the time we were in good position. They’re a lot like Colorado in that they’re very opportunistic.”
Toews’ best look of the night came minutes after the Stoner goal, when he found himself on a 2-on-1 and lost his edge on a wraparound before getting a shot on net.
Toews’ top play came on defense, where Wild defenseman Ryan Suter gave the Blackhawks captain credit for staying in position and using his stick to break up a play.
As much as defense highlighted Toews and Parise’s play last season, this series may be determined by what they do on offense.
Entering the first round last season, Parise tallied just eight points in his previous 18 games. After Game 1 in Chicago, Parise now stands at 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in his past eight games, which leads the NHL this postseason.
“Two top guys, top scorers and players,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “A lot of times the matchups will be those two against each other. In a lot of series, the top guys get neutralized, be it the defense behind them or matchup against another team where their top lines are comfortable going power vs. power.”