Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews losing his cool against Red Wings
Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews pauses on his knees in front of Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard during Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, May 23, 2013. (REBECCA COOK/Reuters)
Maybe it was the frustration of not having yet scored nine games into these NHL playoffs.
Perhaps it was his former Olympic coach, Mike Babcock knowing precisely what buttons to push.
Whatever the case, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, the ultimate hockey battler, came close to being unglued in the second period of Thursday night's 2-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal.
And suddenly (stunningly?) the early Stanley Cup favourites are now on the ropes with their captain seemingly powerless to stop it.
As tough as he is to play against, Toews has also carved out a reputation for being poised, particularly when pressure is at its highest. Meticulously being hounded by the Wings, with each failed shift and each challenge denied for Toews, it is Detroit that is playing with the calm you might have expected from the 'Hawks.
Give Wings coach Mike Babcock credit for some of it, too. He leaned on Toews at the Vancouver Olympics because he knew what the Winnipeg native was capable of doing. Here, he's instructed his team to do whatever it takes to get under the skin of the opposition's emotional leader.
And under that skin the Wings went, particularly in the second period when Toews collected a hat trick of minor penalties, the second of which led to Jakub Kindl's power-play goal and game-winner.
In 48 regular-season games, Toews was whistled for just 11 minor penalties. In 5:39 of the second period, he took three.
"I'm not going to say anything about the officiating," Toews said before doing just that. "I disagree with the calls. It's in the heat of the moment. They see what they see."
How high is the shock value in this series so far? Consider that on the way to winning the Presidents' Trophy, the 'Hawks never had a losing streak of longer than two games. Now they've lost three in a row ... Babcock on whether he's surprised at the series standing: "If you would have asked me two months ago, I would have been shocked." ... Another big night for Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, who earned the shutout and has now stopped 86 of the past 88 shots he's faced. Curiously, Babcock is shy about heaping praise on him, however. "Howie played well," the coach said. "We pay him to do that. We expect him to do that." ... Toews had reason to be ticked at his second penalty, a high stick that caused Justin Abdelkader to hit the deck as if he was shot. As replays showed – and Toews not-so-patiently tried to explain to the refs – it was actually Abdelkader's own stick that struck his face as he lost his grip ... Earlier in the week, Babcock talked about benefitting from "wide goal posts." The 'Hawks hit three posts in Game 3 and had two more in Game 4. Meanwhile, Kindl's goal hit a "thin post," bouncing the puck off the inside of the post and past 'Hawks goalie Corey Crawford. "Everyone's a little pissed off," Crawford said. "(We hit) the post and they get one off the post and in. That pretty much sums it up for the last couple of nights for us."
It wasn't as if the 'Hawks weren't getting chances early, they just lacked finish in a 14-shot first period that could have seen them open up a comfortable lead. The 'Hawks had at least four good scoring opportunities and either misfired or were denied by Howard ... Can't imagine either coach, or any in the NHL for that matter, being a fan of the NBC in-game bench interviews. The steamed look on Quenneville's face said it all while he awaited Pierre McGuire's question during a second-period TV timeout and the Wings headed to the power play ... While you couldn't hang this one on Crawford – the lone goal that beat him was helped by an ideal screen – his record as a playoff starter is now 10-12 ... With the win, the 78th of his career, Babcock moves into a tie with the late Pat Burns for eighth in all-time coaching playoff victories. Thursday's win broke a tie with Quenneville.
It's not a curse, perhaps, but the Blackhawks have to overcome not just a deep series hole but a strong historical trend if they are going to parlay their Presidents' Trophy for finishing first in the regular season into a Stanley Cup. The Red Wings are the only team to do it in the last 13 years (2002 and 2008) ... Has the quiet room become ancient history? Bryan Bickell was clocked in the second period by Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson and had to wobble back to the bench. He might have missed a shift or two but not much more ... Seen at the Joe for Game 4: Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (riding the Zamboni in the second intermission) and former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr., now a Sharks scout here to report on what he hopes will be his employer's next opponent ... Line of the night courtesy Wings defenceman Jonathan Ericsson: “We'd like to keep (Toews) in the box. He's not as good for them in the box.” ... And finally, Patrick Sharp on Toews' frustration: "It's not about one guy. We're a whole team in here and we're all frustrated. But nobody's going to feel sorry for themselves."