CHICAGO – Jonathan Toews looks exhausted almost every time he is on the ice.
Whenever a TV camera finds Toews, his cheeks look nearly as red as his home Blackhawks sweater. He is panting for breath 99½ times out of 100 – no, make that 99¾ times out of 100. He always seems to be in desperate need of a tank of oxygen and a two-week vacation.
Yet Toews never stops.
On Friday, Toews was the primary reason the Hawks rallied for a 3-2 shootout win against the Detroit Red Wings. The Hawks knocked yet another item off of their to-do list with eight games remaining in the regular season, clinching the Central Division title for the first time since 2010.
We all know how that season ended.
In order for the Hawks to win another Stanley Cup, keep an eye on The Captain to lead the way.
Toews scored his 20th goal of the season Friday, and it was his biggest one yet. He parked his 6-foot-2, 208-pound frame in front of the net and punched in a loose puck with 2:57 remaining in regulation.
Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey caught a bad case of hockey regret for losing track of Toews near the crease. Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, who had been terrific throughout the game, stretched his left leg as far as possible but could not stop the puck from sliding directly to the back of the net.
Before that moment, the Hawks trailed, 2-1, and had just wasted a golden power-play opportunity. Before that moment, it looked as if the Wings would ruin the night in their final regular-season matchup at the United Center before they join the Eastern Conference next fall.
But then Toews did what Toews does, and a sellout crowd of 22,191 screamed and danced and sang a happy song as if everyone in the building had won a free house.
Because it would have been chaotic for all of those people to try to hug Toews, his Hawks teammates on the ice did the job. Michael Frolik was the first to arrive, grabbing him in a Czech-style bear hug.
The Hawks clinched the division by preserving a tie score for the next 177 seconds to earn a point, but they tacked on an extra point for good measure by beating the Wings in a five-round shootout. Rookie Brandon Saad scored the decisive shootout goal, and goaltender Corey Crawford denied veteran Wings forward Johan Franzen to seal the victory.
None of that would have been possible without Toews’ hard-earned goal.
That’s why Toews was the No. 1 star of the game. It’s why he stood in front of the Hawks’ bench for an in-stadium postgame interview in front of many thousands of fans who lingered to hear him speak.
“We’ve shown our confidence all year no matter what the situation,” Toews said, glancing toward the rowdy fans in the upper deck. “If we’re down a goal, here at home, in front of our fans, …”
Toews’ lips kept moving, but I couldn’t hear him anymore. The place had erupted again.
The next question for Toews was about the Hawks’ intense rivalry with the Wings.
“When the fans get into it, chanting ‘Detroit [stinks]’… ” Toews said.
Toews’ lips kept moving, but I couldn’t hear him once again. A certain chant had broken out.
Before much longer, the postgame interview ended, and Toews turned around to join his teammates. The Hawks’ work is not finished – clinching the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference is next on their list – but they took a moment to celebrate the 15th division title in franchise history.
And, finally, Toews had a chance to sit down and catch his breath.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.