CHICAGO - In the hours before a must-have Game 4 at the Garden in Boston, a struggling Jonathan Toews was approached in conversation at the team hotel by his senior teammate, 28-year-old Brent Seabrook.
"I answered it wrong one time because he just asked me 'What are you thinking about?' and I was like 'Nothing, what are you thinking about?'" Toews recalled of a discussion which would later prove significant. "And he looked at me and I realized what he wanted me to say and I snapped back and I said 'Scoring goals'. And he was like 'There you go'."
Tied for the team lead with 23 goals during the regular season, Toews would go on to do just that Wednesday night, erasing a frustrating 10-game spell with just his second goal of the playoffs, the second marker of a wild 6-5 overtime victory.
The moment uplifted not only the Chicago captain, but his teammates. They knew the weight of the burden he carried on those 25-year-old shoulders and in spite of the many intangibles he continued to bring, there was something about scoring they knew would ease the increasing pressure and most of all, help the team out from a growing offensive rut.
And so it was that Seabrook, who would later blast his second overtime winner of the playoffs, would so bluntly express to Toews what needed to happen.
"To be completely honest I was sick and tired hearing about everything that Johnny's doing right," Seabrook declared with refreshing honesty. "He's a great player; he's one of the best in the league. [But] 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.
"He's got to score goals for us," the veteran defender continued. "It wasn't about the little things that he does. It wasn't about his leadership that he brings. I just thought that maybe he needed to start thinking about scoring goals."
Harassed by the forces of Milan Lucic as he drove wide to the net in the second frame of Game 4, Toews flung the puck threw the blue paint and off the side wall where it caromed to the tape of Michal Rozsival at the right point. Instinctively, Toews would plant himself to the left of Tuukka Rask, getting just a piece of a blast that would beat the Bruins netminder, one of an improbable six to do so.
"It doesn't make much sense when you say that a puck going off your stick from the point…can liberate you as a player and help you play the rest of the game with less pressure," he said, "but it does. That's the difference it makes for you. I think anyone will tell you the same thing."
When he lifted the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010, Toews had tallied seven goals and an impressive 22 assists en route to a long-awaited Cup. Entering Game 4 of the Final in 2013, he'd amassed just the single marker along with eight helpers. The stiff defensive work opposite the once scorching David Krejci trio couldn't be discounted, nor could the tireless efforts on the draw or killing penalties or even the unique traits that define him as a leader. He knew he needed to score.
"You play hard, you try and do the little things right, but at a certain point it's not enough," Toews offered of the budding pressure to score. "You're considered an offensive player, a key player on your team; you've got to find a way to do something."
The difference, he detailed, is imbued in confidence and a subsequent shift in the split-second decision-making process. "It just comes down to having that killer instinct when you're around the net," he continued with hearty insight, "to take the puck to the net or hang onto it that extra second instead of just making a safe play and cycling it down behind their net … It's just having that confidence that 'Hey you can go out there, you've got the puck, don't be afraid, take a chance, throw it on net or take it to the net'…"
Known as one of the more vocal Hawks, for his fiery preparations before and in the midst of games, Seabrook was trying to stoke that "confidence" from his beleaguered captain, drive it forth from the depths of the dry spell.
"He wasn't trying to get on me I don't think; he was definitely just trying to spark me a little bit," said Toews, rooming with Seabrook as a rookie in 2007-2008. "He's always kind of looked after me that way. He cares about his teammates and he wants guys to have success. And just as much or more than anybody he wants to win this thing. He did what he had to do."
Without a goal in the first nine games of the postseason this spring, Toews finally broke under such weight in Game 4 of the Hawks second round series with Detroit. He was hauled off to the box on three consecutive shifts in the second frame, the frustration bubbling over as Chicago went down 3-1 before rallying to top the Wings in seven games.
Faced with similar circumstance in Game 4 of the Finals - down 2-1 with the Bruins stifling the Hawks defensively - Toews did not buckle. Instead, he found a spark and made an impact. And with a best-of-three looming and the Cup on the line, Chicago has its leader feeling good once more.
"He knows what winning's all about," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, "and that's his focus and that's his motivation."