Toews delivering goals early this time

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was annoyed by his lack of scoring early in the playoffs last season.

Toews was finding other ways to contribute as he always did, but he wanted to help more offensively. He went without a goal in five games against the Minnesota Wild in the opening round and four games against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals before he registered his first goal of the playoffs in the 10th game last season.

A season later, Toews did many of the same things in a 4-2 first-round series victory over the St. Louis Blues as he did last season to propel the Blackhawks into the second round. He won faceoffs (91-of-160 in the series). He faced the highest quality of competition (32.2 percent, according to extraskater.com). He played in all situations, including helping the Blackhawks kill off 27-of-29 power plays, and had the highest amount of ice time among the team's forwards. He also contributed four assists over the six games.

But on top of it all, Toews also scored. He put home three goals, all of which ended up being game-winners, in the six games against the Blues. He scored a total of three goals in 23 playoff games last season.

Toews prides himself in being an all-around player and scoring is part of that.

"It's nice to not have to fight that and work for that first one like I was last year," Toews said after scoring in overtime in Game 5. "People start talking about it and whether you want it to or not it gets in your head. You want to score goals. You want to contribute offensively for our team. Last year, I didn't have to, clearly, but I wanted to."

Toews' goals against the Blues arrived thanks to some luck and skill. His first goal skipped through the legs of Blues goaltender Ryan Miller off a shot in the left circle in Game 3. His second one was created when Duncan Keith was attempting to clear the puck from the Blackhawks' zone and it ended up finding a wide-open Toews at center ice in Game 5. Toews turned to his skill to beat Miller with a deke and a backhanded shot for the goal. Finally, Toews was patient with the puck and waited for his chance before placing a shot in the left corner of the net from the slot for a power-play goal in the third period in the decisive Game 6 on Sunday.

Toews didn't put much stock in all three goals being game-winners, but he was pleased to have scored.

"It's nice to score a couple goals, and it's nice they meant something, but I don't know," Toews said after Game 6. "I guess it just happened to work out that way. I wouldn't make too much about it."

Keith made much about Toews' goals coming in a series where goals were hard to come by. Only Toews, Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane and Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko scored more than two goals in the series.

"[He's scored] in such a tight-checking series too," Keith said of Toews after Game 5. "There was a lot made out of him not scoring last year. I think he still had a lot of chances, but he just couldn't score. It's nice to see him get some goals there. He's always got that leadership, work ethic and two-way game in him. So when he's scoring it obviously makes our team that much more dangerous."

Toews' rest at the end of the regular season may have something to do with his recent play. He missed the team's final six regular-season games after suffering an upper-body injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 30. He didn't play again until April 17.

Toews said recently he felt refreshed heading into the playoffs.

"Just excited to play hockey, and leading up to the hit I took in Pittsburgh there, it was a tough couple weeks," Toews said. "I think it was getting to that point where there was just so much hockey. We were playing every other day for a couple weeks straight. I was playing a lot of minutes, and I think just having those few weeks off has definitely helped me get my body ready for this series.

"And it's been much the same, it's every other day and it's long games going to overtime pretty much every night against a tough, physical team like St. Louis. It's something that I definitely needed to be ready for, and I feel like I have been."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville also believes Toews came into the series ready to play.

"He had progressed as the [playoff] season went on last year," Quenneville said. "This year getting that break going into the playoffs got him fresh and a lot of hockey over the bit of time. But he's skating hard, he's skating well, I think time away did him some good."