CHICAGO – Jonathan Toews had games for the Chicago Blackhawks that his numbers “jumped off the charts.” That’s how coach Joel Quenneville describes it, and it doesn’t have to do with producing goals and assists.
Toews’ all-around game, especially in his own zone, earned him the Selke Trophy and it’s a big reason why the Blackhawks won the Presidents’ Trophy and are in the Stanley Cup final. They’re also facing the Selke runner-up in Patrice Bergeron, who likewise sets the perfect tone for the Boston Bruins on defence.
“If you play against a guy like Patrice Bergeron, every shift is going to be tough. He’s going to be all over you,” Toews said. “It’s much like Pavel Datsyuk, obviously, and Henrik Zetterberg. They’re going to create plays and make you worry about them when they have the puck, but at the same time they’re going to be all over you and checking you wherever you go.”
That’s Toews, too. A plus-28 player in the regular season, his responsible defensive play in these playoffs mitigated his lack of production through the first three rounds.
Toews’ defensive prowess sometimes goes overlooked because of what he can do offensively and how he leads Chicago. But those things put together make him a more well-rounded captain.
“You respect a player like that who leads not only off the ice but by example on the ice the way he plays,” right-winger Patrick Kane said. “That’s the epitome of a leader when you’re doing that.”
Being part of the NHL’s best and strongest defensive team helped Toews’ case for the Selke, which he acknowledged. But the Blackhawks are sound at both ends of the ice because Toews is such a responsible player.
“He’s one of the hardest competitors, one of the hardest-working guys on our team,” Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith said. “You see his work ethic, and it rubs off on other guys.”
Quenneville asks a lot of Toews, and the 25-year-old delivers on a consistent basis.
“I thought Johnny had a real solid year when I look offensively what his production was like, but defensively,” Quenneville said. “Playing against top lines, top D shift in, shift out, that says a lot. But I think his awareness on both sides of the puck makes him the type of player that he is.”
The Bruins can say the same thing about Bergeron, who led the league in faceoff percentage and is probably the best shut-down centre around.
“He does so much defensively, starting with the faceoffs,” Boston captain Zdeno Chara said. “He’s obviously very good at the dot, always taking a lot of pride in his defensive game, doing those little things and working extremely hard.”
Bergeron, who narrowly lost out to Toews in the Selke voting, won the award last year. He’s always in the debate, as Bruins coach Claude Julien has noticed growth in Bergeron’s game over the years.
“He still does the same things. He keeps doing them better and better every year,” Julien said. “He learns a lot from little mistakes here and there. He doesn’t like making mistakes. Any little mistake he makes, next day he’s watching himself on the computer, watching where he could have done something better.”
It’s that kind of dedication, especially on defence, that makes the Cup final such a battle of strength versus strength for the Blackhawks and Bruins. Only now in facing Bergeron are Chicago players beginning to understand what it’s like to go up against Toews.
“Obviously you don’t realize what it’s like until you play against a guy like that,” forward Brandon Bollig said.
But Western Conference players have had to deal with Toews’ balance of offensive and defensive production all season, and now the Bruins are discovering how much of a handful he is to deal with.
“That’s why he’s arguably the best all-around player in the game,” Bollig said. “That’s definitely a guy you want on your team. Not only can he hurt you on the scoreboard but also keep the other team from scoring. That’s why he’s our captain, that’s why he’s one of the top players in this league. That’s a big reason we’ve had our success this year.”