The Chicago Blackhawks played the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday in what was already set to be a promising game against two top-notch Western Conference teams. They are each battling for dominance in the Central Division, where the Wild have the upper hand. Unluckily for them, Captain Clutch lived up to his name for the Blackhawks in the contest.
The matchup was already going to be an entertaining one just because of the two teams involved, but it turned out to be unforgettable for one individual: Jonathan Toews. He became the focal point of the game, recording a hat trick and two assists in leading his team to a 5-3 victory. This was his second career five-point game; his first came against the Anaheim Ducks back on Nov. 25, 2011.
Surge for Central Dominance
The Wild are currently leading the Central Division with 84 points. Their top performers are playing like All-Stars as Mikael Granlund and Mikko Koivu lead the charge in points for the team with 55 and 46, respectively. From the back end, Devan Dubnyk is having a career year and is in the discussion for the Vezina Trophy, leading the NHL in save percentage (.933) and wins (32). The team has the second-best record in the entire league, only behind the Washington Capitals who have 85 points.
The Blackhawks are nipping at their heels with 79 points and would love to take ownership of first overall in the Division. Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin lead the club in points with 60 and 53, respectively.
A Clutch Night to Remember
Toews had been steadily climbing — point production wise — with five goals and 10 assists since Jan. 22, and Tuesday’s performance was just icing on the cake.
I think for me the biggest change in my approach to the game is just my expectations. Just try to go into every game with no expecation, focus on the process, focus on playing well, playing the right way, staying in the moment, especially if things don’t go in or things don’t go your way. You’re just building one game after another to try and follow up good efforts and put weeks together, multiple games back-to-back.
His new take on the game has obviously worked for him, and people are starting to notice. Teammate Nick Schmaltz spoke optimistically with the Chicago Tribune about Toews’ historic night:
You knew at some point the tides were going to change for him.
Schmaltz carved a similar path to the NHL as Toews did, both having played for the University of North Dakota. Ironically, the two have recently been paired together on the Hawks’ top line. Schmaltz recorded a goal and two assists last night, both assists being on Toews’ goals.
Credit Where Credit is Due
After a player has the kind of night Toews had, people must pay their respects. Everyone who is a fan of hockey knows of Toews’ performance from last night and the NHL would have been remiss if they didn’t acknowledge it on Twitter.
— NHL (@NHL) February 22, 2017
If you want to see more Tweets highlighting Toews’ pure control of last night’s game, there’s plenty of them, as there hasn’t been any shortage of buzz on the Twittersphere. The NHL was set to highlight the play of last night’s top two rookies, Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews, but in the end, Toews stole the show.
If he continues to play at the level he has in the past month, he might just help the Blackhawks gain control of the Central Division. Look for the Hawks to make a substantial dent in this year’s playoffs and take a run at their fourth Stanley Cup in eight years, solidifying their case for being the first post-salary cap NHL dynasty.