DETROIT – Jonathan Toews had been the Blackhawks voice of reason this week, reassuring anyone who was 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) adversity all season long, a two-game losing streak to the Detroit Red Wings was no reason to give into frustration.
And 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 3-1 deficit.
It’s impossible to put the Hawks’ 2-0 Game 4 loss all 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.
But that’s where the blame game stops. Unless your name is Jonathan Toews, who Thursday failed 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 game until the waning moments,
But then came the second period, when Toews was sent to the penalty box three times.
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. Forget about his complaints earlier this week that the Red Wings were getting away with a litany of hockey sins and that the officials were somehow managing to look the other way.
On Wednesday, I asked Howard if he could sense Toews getting frustrated.
Howard praised Toews like he was a teammate. He commended his 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 Wings everything they could have asked for.
Now with his team facing one heck of an uphill climb, it’s on Toews to be a captain.
Toews was selected this year as a finalist for the NHL’s Messier Award, an honor that recognizes the league’s top leader.
Thursday night, he didn’t meet the requirements. Now, he’ll have to prepare the Hawks for a do-or-die Game 5 at the United Center.
It won’t be an easy climb. But if the Hawks have any chance to extend the series – and their season – it’s got to be Toews who takes charge.
Toews’ words about playing through adversity and remaining calm and collected seem empty now.
It’s time for him to stop talking and start leading his team – on the ice – not in penalty minutes.
• Jeff Arnold is a sports reporter for Shaw Media. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold.