Sunday night featured a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings in a game where the top offense in the NHL met the league’s toughest defense.
It would be the Blackhawks No. 1 offense that averages 3.7 goals per game that was the difference vs. the Kings, who allow a league-best 1.9 goals per game. Specifically, it was Hawks captain Jonathan Toews who was the difference as he assisted on two of the Hawks’ three goals in the first period.
“We got a great start and didn’t really let up for the next 40 minutes,” Toews told the associated press after the game. “It was a much better effort tonight. It doesn’t take us long to get back to our good habits.”
The Hawks were coming off an ugly 7-3 loss the night before to the Toronto Maple Leafs in which backup and rookie goaltender Antti Raanta allowed five goals on 20 shots. With a goalie whose confidence was rattled, getting out to an early lead was imperative against the team with the third-most points in the conference.
Toews is one of the NHL’s best all-around players and best captains in any sport. He doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves because he’s not a prolific scorer like his teammate Patrick Kane, and he doesn’t seek the limelight. However, his leadership in Sunday night’s game at the United Center allowed the Hawks’ rookie netminder, who is filling in indefinitely for Corey Crawford, to relax and let the game come to him.
Raanta was closing in on his first shutout until Alec Martinez got the Kings on the board at the 16:06 mark, and you could tell he was playing with much more confidence than he had the night before. Toews put the team on his shoulders tonight and essentially said “we’re not losing two in a row.” The sign of a great leader is to elevate the level of play of his teammates, and Toews did exactly that tonight.