NHL playoffs: Blackhawks' rally must start from within

Gregory Shamus

The Blackhawks have taken on the personality of their captain. That's normally a good thing, unless the captain loses his composure.

Jonathan Toews has been a very good captain, especially considering how young he was when awarded with the "C" on the front of his jersey.

He's lifted a Stanley Cup and won a Conn Smythe Trophy, and he led his Chicago Blackhawks team to the best record in the NHL over this shortened regular season.

To a large extent, the team has taken on his no-nonsense, get-the-job-done mentality.

The fact his teammates respond to his leadership shows Toews certainly has value as a captain. Of course, that value can become largely meaningless if Toews loses his composure and shows obvious frustration.

That's exactly what has happened over Chicago's last three games, all losses to Detroit that leave the President's Trophy winning Blackhawks on the brink of playoff elimination.

Yes, the Blackhawks are working hard. They're generating scoring chances, but you can see the confidence diminishing every time the puck finds Jimmy Howard's glove, blocker, pads, chest, helmet, skate, the goalpost, or crossbar.

And it's doing those things a lot, as opposed to settling behind Howard and across the red line. Puck luck hasn't been on Chicago's side, but while I abhor the phrase "You make your own luck," the Blackhawks haven't done enough to overcome the poor luck.

So, in a way, they've made their own luck.

Toews has been the ringleader. Three consecutive penalties in the second period proved too much for Chicago's elite penalty kill to handle, especially when Toews -- one of the team's best penalty killers -- was sitting in the box each time. It took top players who don't kill out of their rhythm, because they couldn't get on the ice.

Worse yet, the Blackhawks -- who started fast and were playing well even though the game was scoreless -- lost their collective composure after their captain did.

I guess, as Pierre McGuire likes to exclaim, "That's leadership."

With Detroit up 3-1 in the series, it looks really good for the Red Wings. But it's far from over until the handshake line begins, and Howard may have to keep upping his game to keep Chicago from staging a rally against its historic rival.

For the Blackhawks to make that comeback, it has to start from within. It was obvious watching Game 4 that the visiting players tightened up every time a scoring chance was denied, especially after Jakub Kindl scored to get the Wings on the board. Toews has been wound up like a drum since Detroit began harassing him incessantly in Game 2 of the series.

The players need to find a way to loosen up. I doubt Joel Quenneville will take them to play paintball in the middle of a playoff series, but the veteran coach needs to find a way to get his players to play looser than they've been. Structure is still important, but players aren't going to succeed when they're playing tight and without confidence.

Detroit deserves a ton of credit for all of this. They've been physical at the right times with the right players, finding a way to knock the always-focused Toews completely off his game. Howard has been magnificent in goal, and role players like Danny Cleary and Drew Miller have played wonderfully. Mike Babcock has coached a great series, pushing all the correct buttons since a Game 1 clunker.

It isn't over yet, but the Wings are a win away from shocking the hockey world. Then again, it's Detroit, so maybe it shouldn't be a huge shock.

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