CHICAGO -- Most players need a guy, someone they trust to say or do anything to prop them up when they're down or set them straight when they've gone off the rails.
For Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, defenseman Brent Seabrook is that guy -- and Seabrook had heard enough in the days leading up to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final to finally feel the need to remind Toews who he is and what he's supposed to do to help the Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins.
"To be completely honest, I was sick and tired of hearing everybody talk about everything that Johnny is doing right," Seabrook said Thursday afternoon at United Center, less than 24 hours after his overtime goal gave Chicago a 6-5 win at TD Garden to even the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final at 2-2. "He's a great player. He's one of the best in the League, and I just told him that he's got to stop thinking about that, too."
The problem, as Seabrook saw it, was the ignorance that accompanied the praise people were heaping on Toews for his 200-foot game and all the little things he was doing so well in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, specifically in the Final.
Seabrook didn't want Toews to fall into the trap of believing it was OK for one of the best players in the NHL, a point-per-game guy who scored 23 goals in 47 games during the regular season, to be in a 10-game goal-scoring drought, the longest of his playoff career.
That's why Seabrook did the only thing he could do, the thing Toews usually does when a teammate is struggling or in coach Joel Quenneville's doghouse: He went to Toews, Captain Serious himself, and set him straight. Seabrook's message was for Toews to stop focusing on the things he was doing right so he could start thinking about the one thing he wasn't doing at all: scoring goals.
"I mean, he's got to score goals for us," Seabrook said. "He's a big part of our team. When he's going, we have a chance to win.
"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."
Toews got the message, and he delivered.
He went to the net Wednesday night and got a piece of Michal Rozsival's second-period point shot for a deflection goal, his first since Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings and his second of the playoffs.
"You play hard, you try and do the little things right, but at a certain point it's not enough," Toews said. "You're considered an offensive player, key player on your team, you've got to find a way to do something. [Seabrook] wasn't trying to get on me, I don't think. He was definitely just trying to spark me a little bit."
Toews said the pep talk happened in the players' lounge at the team hotel in Boston. He said Seabrook did not take a sour, angry, bitter or aggressive tone with him, but he was direct in his words and facial expressions.
"He just asked me, 'What are you thinking about?'" Toews said. "I was like, 'Nothing, what are you thinking about?' And he looked at me again and I realized what he wanted me to say. I snapped back and said, 'Scoring goals.' There you go. That was all it was."
If so, it didn't have to be anymore. It was enough. And it wasn't the first time in these playoffs that Seabrook had done something like this for Toews.
Remember Game 4 against the Red Wings, when the Blackhawks were melting down with a fiery-hot Toews leading the destruction. He took three consecutive penalties in a 5-1/2-minute stretch in the second period. Toews never even got back to the bench. It went shift, tripping Drew Miller; shift, high-sticking Justin Abdelkader; shift, high-sticking Jonathan Ericsson.
Seconds after Toews was called for nailing Ericsson in the face with his stick, Seabrook skated over to the penalty box, opened the door and said a few words in Toews' ear before tapping him on the top of the helmet three times. He was telling him to get his head in the game. He was telling him that he needed to start playing and acting like Jonathan Toews.
Seabrook was being Toews' guy.
"I don't know if it's something that goes with the relationship and the friendship we've had over the years, rooming with him my rookie year here in Chicago … but he's always kind of looked after me that way," Toews said.
Toews eventually settled down, stayed out of the box for the rest of the game, then scored in Game 5 as the Blackhawks started their comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win the series in seven games.
Even if Seabrook is sick of hearing about it, Toews' play has been steady and he's been reliable ever since that meltdown at Joe Louis Arena. He hasn't taken a shift off or lost his focus because of his scoring drought. His energy is the same, and his approach, specifically in transitioning strong defense into scoring chances, has not changed.
"We see the focus is on not scoring much, but I still think the other intangibles to his game bring so much to our team," Quenneville said. "Obviously you're a player and you're a scorer, you love to score and you get excited when you score. But as far as him getting down and getting frustrated, you can look at that one period in Detroit where he didn't get to the bench, but I still think his approach, getting prepared for the game and preparing his team, or our team, for the game -- he hasn't changed his demeanor.
"He knows what winning is all about; that's his focus and that's his motivation."
But just like anybody else, Toews occasionally needs someone to prop him up or set him straight.
He needs a guy. He needs Seabrook.
"Just as much or more than anybody, he wants to win this thing," Toews said. "He did what he had to do."
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