CHICAGO – Mired in a scoring slump, Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews turned to his leadership qualities and his defensive game, which is among the best in the NHL.
That wasn't enough for defenceman Brent Seabrook, who felt his captain needed a kick in the pants.
“I was sick and tired of hearing everybody talk about everything that Johnny is doing right,” Seabrook said. “He's a great player. He's one of the best in the league, and I just told him that he's got to stop thinking about that, too. He's got to stop thinking about everything that he's doing right and stop worrying about not scoring goals.”
Toews recalled sitting at a hotel with Seabrook and getting the message.
“He just asked me, 'What are you thinking about?' And I was like, “Nothing; what are you thinking about?' ” Toews said. “And he looked at me again and I realized what he wanted me to say, and I snapped back and said, 'Scoring goals.'”
Even Toews needs a pep talk now and then. Seabrook just provided the familiar voice that the 25-year-old Chicago centre respected.
“You play hard, you try and do the little things right, but at a certain point it's not enough. You're considered an offensive player, key player on your team, you've got to find a way to do something,” Toews said. “He wasn't trying to get on me, I don't think. He was definitely just trying to spark me a little bit.”
Seabrook knew that the Blackhawks could roll along if Toews was contributing offensively along with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. When Toews scored in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, it showed, as Chicago beat the Boston Bruins to tie the series at 2.
Toews' goal snapped a 10-game drought dating to Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings. It's no coincidence that he scored then and helped his team come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
But the game before that, Toews took three penalties in one period and needed to be calmed down. Seabrook was the guy to do it.
“He's one of the guys that doesn't wear a letter but he's definitely a big part of our leadership group,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Even at a young age here, five years going back, he was probably the one voice that you hear a lot in the locker room and probably the most on the bench or around even practice or game time or preparing between periods. I think he's the one guy that you'll hear him the most. He always says the right things.”
Seabrook clearly said the right things to Toews, who insisted thinking more about offence wouldn't detract from his defensive game. That's important, he said, when he's going up against the likes of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.
But there is something tangible that comes from concentrating on scoring.
“It just comes down to having that killer instinct when you're around the net, to take the puck there or hang onto it that extra second instead of just making a safe play and cycling it behind their net,” Toews said. “It's just something, that confidence that, hey, you can go out there, you've got the puck, don't be afraid, take a chance and throw it on net or take it to the net.”
Toews isn't a selfish player, and his teammates and coach know that. Quenneville always compliments him for all the things Seabrook was sick and tired of hearing about: how he's a leader, responsible defender, penalty-killer and faceoff specialist.
“Playoffs Johnny” knows “what winning is all about, and that's his focus and that's his motivation,” Quenneville said. “His approach, getting prepared for the game and preparing his team, or our team, for the game, he hasn't changed his demeanour.”
Except for when Toews' demeanour had to change to get his offence going.