DETROIT – Jonathan Toews had been the Blackhawks voice of reason this week, reassuring anyone willing to listen that there was no reason to panic.
It was Toews – the confident captain – who spoke for his teammates, insisting that even though the Hawks hadn’t faced this level (or any) of adversity all season that a two-game losing streak to the Detroit Red Wings was no reason to give into frustration.
On Thursday night, Toews had the chance to take the lead in that regard. He failed miserably. The Hawks losing streak is now at three and the Hawks’ season is on the verge of being over, now facing a steep 3-1 deficit.
It’s almost impossible to put the Hawks’ 2-0 Game 4 loss squarely on Toews. Not when the Hawks again failed to solve Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, who remains the front-runner for the Western Conference semifinals Most Valuable Player.
Not when the Hawks power play again offered absolutely nothing, running their string of scoreless opportunities to 11 and to paraphrase Duncan Keith remains the same: Just plain bad.
But that’s where the blame game stops. Unless your name is Jonathan Toews, who on Thursday failed in the biggest thing his team asks of him: To live up to the ‘C’ on his sweater.
Don’t get me wrong. Toews’ work ethic is undisputed. He made one mad dash down the ice after another, doing everything in his power to spark his team in what remained a one-goal lead until the waning moments.
But then came the second period, when Toews was sent to the penalty box three times, twice for high-sticking and once for hooking. Afterward, he continued to maintain he was getting the short end of the hockey stick.
"I’m not going to say anything about the officiating," Toews said, starting to say something about the officiating. "Obviously I disagree with the calls but it's in the heat of the moment. They see what they see."
In his absence, Corey Crawford did as much as anyone to give the Hawks their best chance to even the series. The Hawks’ penalty kill, which hadn’t allowed a goal since April 21, was again nearly flawless, coming within one second of extending their string of perfection. But that one second was all Jakub Kindl needed to fire a shot past Crawford for what was for all intents and purposes the only goal that mattered
Toews happened to be in the penalty box at the time.
All week, Toews had been the one that preached discipline, insisting that the Hawks had to keep on their game even when things weren’t going their way.
Thursday night, Toews failed to heed his own message. Forget about the fact Toews hasn’t scored in the playoffs, an aspect of his game Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said he's not worried about.
On Wednesday, I asked Howard if he could sense Toews getting frustrated. Howard praised Toews like he was a teammate. He commended Toews' unyielding effort and proclaimed that even if Toews didn’t score, he still gave the Hawks a great chance of winning.
But for Toews to do that, he has to be on the ice. And for the six minutes Toews sat in the penalty box during the second period, he was taken out of the equation, giving the Red Hawks everything they could have asked for.
“We'd like to keep him in the box." Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson said. "He’s not as good for them in the box."
Now with his team facing one heck of an uphill climb, it’s on Toews – who this week was selected as a finalist for the NHL's Messier Leadership Award – to be a captain. After Thursday's loss, Quenneville continued to back his Captain, refferring to him as a battler.
Now, we'll see what kind of fight he – and the Hawks – have left.
The Hawks now face a mountain-like challenge, trying to rebound from three straight losses. It won’t be an easy climb. But if the Hawks have any chance to extend the series – and their season starting in Saturday's Game 5– it’s got to be Toews taking charge.
“Eventually, something’s got to give,’’ Toews said. “We’re too good a team. We’ve got too much talent. For as hard as we’re working, something’s got to go our way.’’
It’s easy for Toews to say that. But at this point of the series, its time for him to stop talking and start leading his team on the ice. Not in penalty minutes.
Jeff Arnold is a sports reporter with The Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold.