Toews thrives under pressure

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:35 PM ET

We’ve been saying it for a while, but it seems everybody is beginning to notice the same thing about Jonathan Toews.

The bigger the game, the better he is.

The latest evidence: Chicago’s first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series with the Nashville Predators.

Toews, the captain of the Blackhawks, had just one assist and was a puzzling minus-three through the first three games. The ’Hawks, down 2-1 in the series, were setting off panic in the streets of the Windy City.

That’s when the Winnipegger rushed into the nearest phone booth and pulled on his superhero outfit.

The result: two goals, seven points and a plus-five rating in the next three games, including the game winner in Monday night’s 5-3 series clincher.

“Johnny’s like that,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville told reporters. “When the games are on the line he wants to be out there. He seems to get bigger and better the higher the stage.”

Hey, we know. We watched the Olympics.

We saw the 21-year-old who still can’t grow a decent playoff beard score the opening goal of the gold-medal game, lead Team Canada in scoring and be named the best forward of the tournament.

And we still remember his performance in the World Junior Hockey Championship a few years back, not to mention how he made Team Canada’s men’s roster the same year.

It’s becoming old hat — but it never gets old.

“You got to love the way he wants the puck, his speed, tenacity, positioning defensively,” Quenneville continued. “Over time, he just continues to get better and it’s a good sign. His Olympics probably illustrates his whole career, how it’s gone — he got better and better as the tournament went on.”

They’d call him Mr. Clutch in Chicago — if he wasn’t already known as Mr. Serious.

With eight points, Toews now tops the talent-soaked Blackhawks in scoring.

And did you notice who took all the important faceoffs at the end of Game 6, Chicago clinging to a 4-3 lead?

Head-to-head with Nashville veteran Jason Arnott, Toews won two critical draws cleanly, allowing the ’Hawks to get the puck out of their own end. In the playoffs, as in the regular season, he’s among the game’s top draws.

“He’s our leader,” Marian Hossa said after Monday’s game. “He’s been great.”

The thing is, he might have to be even better if the ’Hawks want to go deeper.

Up next, the Vancouver Canucks, a different animal than the tight-checking, but offensively average, Predators.

Vancouver scored 51 more goals than Nashville during the regular season, ranking second only to Washington.

“That’s a feisty team,” Toews said of the Preds, talking to reporters in Nashville. “We learn a lot from playing against a team like that. A lot of these games we had to play a patient game.

Sometimes you’re just going to have to work and find ways to win. It’s not going to be pretty.”

This next series might not be, either.

But it should be fun to watch.

A rematch of last year’s hard-fought second-rounder, won by Chicago in six, there’s plenty of emotion between the two, already.

“There is a lot of history and bad blood there,” Vancouver defenceman Shane O’Brien told Canadian Press, Tuesday.

“We’re starting ahead of schedule, I guess, because of our playoff experience against this team,” added Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault.

Don’t forget, too, it was Canucks blue liner Willie Mitchell who caught Toews with a blindside hit last fall, sidelining him with a a concussion.

Mitchell, coincidentally, is out with a concussion of his own.

Toews, meanwhile, has his head about him these days.

And we’d expect no less.


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