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SportsMonday: Johnny Hockey

Can anyone tell me, specifically, what it is that Jonathan Toews does so well? It isn't puck-handling. It isn't Marian Hossa-style hold the puck and hold the puck and hold the puck and then make the perfect pass or shot at the absolute last second.

His shot is strong but not blisteringly fast or accurate. He is a physical presence, especially on defense, but he isn't flying around crashing into everyone and thank goodness. Otherwise he'd probably be out with an "upper body injury" that sure looked like a killer shot to the head. Actually, we'll get back to that physical presence stuff.

He skates well but he isn't flying down the ice faster than just about anyone else like, say, a Patrick Sharp.

I suppose we have to go with a cliché. I mean, there is a reason people say certain things about great athletes and then say them again. It is because those truths are particularly apt, particularly frequently.

And as far as Toews goes, the man has been remarkably good at doing exactly what his team needs, when it needs it. He has done it game after game, month after month and season after season. He also knows how to finish, especially with the game on the line.

Toews isn't particularly known for his physicality but he knew yesterday's game was of the sort that could turn on a perfectly timed hit.

And sure enough he provided a crunching body check deep in Minnesota territory with the game in the balance well into the third period. Just as the Wild's Matt Cooke had set the tone the previous game with physical play that led to turnovers and goals, so did Toews rub out a foe to create offense. Shortly thereafter, Toews powered into perfect position in front of the net.

That hit gave the Hawks possession that resulted in a shot, a mad scramble, an almost hand pass, a rebound and finally a weak Toews backhander that barely crossed the goal line. The Hawks had the lead they would not relinquish and the eventual 2-1 victory gave them a 3-2 advantage in the series with the Wild. Game 6 is Tuesday back in St. Paul at 8 p.m.

It was Toews' 10th career, post-season, game-winning goal. That remarkable number is a nice, specific accomplishment that speaks to the man's brilliance on the ice.

Speaking of Toews, thank goodness coach Q finally calmed down, at least a little bit, and put Patrick Sharp back on the top line with the Hawks captain and Hossa at the start of the second period. It wasn't a coincidence they were the forward trio who were mixing it up like nobody's business in the moments leading up to Toews somehow jamming in his game-winning goal.

At some point during the Hawks' trip up to Minnesota last week, Mr. Quenneville came a bit unhinged and started over-coaching. He sat Nick Leddy in one game and Kris Versteeg in the next. He devised all sorts of goofy line combos and gave rookies like Jeremy Morin and Phil Regin significant ice time. Now, Regin did make a big play on Sunday, drawing the hooking penalty that led to Bryan Bickell's second-period power-play tip-in of a Patrick Kane shot.

But Games 3, 4 and 5 of a second-round playoff series is an awfully strange time to be making every change in the book. Game 3 was disappointing and the Hawks did not play their best hockey in Game 4 or even in the first period of Game 5. But they were still close.

At some point a coach has to trust his championship team to get itself going. And while all of Quenneville's activity may have sparked the Hawks a bit, the biggest keys to Sunday's game were rock-solid defense spearheaded by stalwarts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and goalie Corey Crawford at one end, and the Hawks' best forwards making a few huge plays at the other.

That will be the formula for one more win as well and an invitation to play on in the Western Conference championship. As long as Toews leads the way, and Quenneville stays out of the way, the Hawks should be good to go.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. You can also listen to him weekly on The Beachwood Radio Hour. He welcomes your comments.

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