Jonathan Toews wins Conn Smythe; Was he the best choice?

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toewsyoungestcaptain.jpgThere was a moment or two during this year’s playoffs when I wondered if Jonathan Toews might ascend another rung on the superstar ladder and join the truly elite players in the hockey world.

After he came down to earth a bit during the Cup finals, I’m not sure if he’s quite “there” yet. Instead, I guess Toews will just settle for this pittance of a year: an Olympic gold medal, being named a top forward for that tournament and now the dual honors of being the youngest captain to ever win a Stanley Cup (take that, Sidney Crosby!) and a Conn Smythe. All that for a 22-year-old nicknamed “Captain Serious” – who happens to rock some serious sideburns, to boot.

Considering the fact that the playoffs are often jam-packed with hockey heroism, debates over the “most deserving” Smythe winner will crop up in many circles. Before tonight’s game, I stated that Chris Pronger should win it (Cup or not) while Brandon picked the Blackhawks’ fantastic defenseman Duncan Keith.

While he faced similar struggles as his teammate, one could also make a decent argument for Patrick Kane, as well (and not just because of his courageous decision to grow a playoff mullet). Toews had three assists in the Cup finals to augment his 29 points overall (second only in the playoffs to the Flyers’ other dark horse Smythe candidate, Danny Briere, who scored 30). Kane wasn’t far behind with 28 of his own, though. The thing is, Kane put up much better numbers in the championship round. He had three goals and five assists for eight points, all in the last four games. Oh yeah, he also scored that oddball overtime game winner that clinched the first Blackhawks Cup since 1961. It’s at least reasonable to wonder if Kane’s late surge made him just as MVP-worthy.

Really, though, all that talk is just nitpicking at this point. Toews never stopped fighting … even when he wasn’t putting up numbers and even when he was on the wrong end of a Pronger collision. His “puck luck” seemed to run out after putting up a crazy 26 points through the first three rounds, yet few questioned his leadership or determination during the postseason.

He might not have the magical skills of a Gretzky or a Lemieux (or even his partner in crime, Patrick Kane) but he’s mature beyond his years when it comes to leading by example. I’ve heard the comparisons to Mark Messier – and while he might not match the bloodthirsty brutality of the man who broke the New York Rangers curse – he certainly seems to share that do-whatever-it takes DNA. And, really, you cannot complain too much about Messier comparisons, can you? (Unless someone says you have a “Messier-like” hairline. Then they’re being mean to you.)

For all we know, Toews could have 10-18 seasons left in his career. Chicago will have a “bulls-eye” on their collective backs during every game next season as contenders use those games as “measuring sticks” for their own progress. With a roster that could be at least dented – if not seriously damaged – by salary cap issues, the team will lean on Toews even more as time goes on. In other words, it’s only going to get tougher for the young Canadian leader to experience the joy of hoisting the Cup again.

Something tells me he’s not particularly worried about that right now, though.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.