The impressive depth of the Chicago Blackhawks has shined in the 2013 NHL playoffs, and it's one of the main reasons why the Original Six club earned a second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in four years.
This depth is also why the Blackhawks have been successful despite captain and No. 1 center Jonathan Toews failing to make any sort of impact offensively on a consistent basis.
But at some point, the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner will have to make a substantial contribution to the scoring sheet if Chicago is going to hoist the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks lost Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final 2-1 in overtime to the Boston Bruins at the United Center on Saturday, which has evened the series at 1-1 going back to TD Garden for Monday's Game 3.
For Chicago to avoid a 2-1 series deficit, with Boston already having the home-ice advantage, it needs Toews to improve his performance and play like the big-game superstar he's been numerous times in previous postseasons.
Through 19 playoff games, the 25-year-old forward has only scored one goal and eight assists. His only goal was scored on the power play, and he's averaging just 3.5 shots per game. In two games against the Bruins, Toews is scoreless with a total of seven shots and a disappointing 48.8 percent success rate on faceoffs.
When Toews tallies at least one point, the Blackhawks are 6-0 in the playoffs, compared to 7-6 when he is held scoreless.
This kind of performance isn't good enough against a Bruins team with an elite shut-down-defense pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, who will be on the ice for the large majority of Toews' shifts in Boston where the Bruins have the last line change as the home team.
Chara was on the ice for over 60 percent of Toews' even-strength shifts in Game 1 and did a tremendous job taking away the Chicago star's time and space with the puck. Boston's No. 1 defenseman did more of the same on Saturday.
Toews is also going up against last year's Frank J. Selke Trophy winner, Patrice Bergeron, on many of his shifts, and the Bruins center is doing a great job of preventing the Blackhawks captain from creating scoring chances with physical play, good stick work and consistent backchecking.
These matchups aren't going away in this series, and Toews has to produce against Chara, Seidenberg and Bergeron for the Blackhawks offense to score enough goals against Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, who is arguably the leading Conn Smythe Trophy candidate right now.
"One thing you know, [Toews is] the ultimate player as far as in all zones," said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville on Friday. "He plays well without the puck, brings speed to your game, puck possession, awareness to how you want to play technically. Special teams he's out there in all those minutes.
"Offensively his numbers may be down, but the one thing you get from Johnny, without the puck, they got to be concerned with him. He takes the opponents in their top matchups a lot of times, they're going to see Johnny a lot. He's playing against some guys that know how to play without the puck. Usually gets a top defensive pairing."
Another area Toews must improve in is faceoffs. As the Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont notes, Bergeron is getting the better of the Chicago captain.
The Blackhawks won't be able to use their speed and offensive skill advantage over the Bruins if they don't control possession of the puck by winning faceoffs, especially in the defensive zone where they have not handled Boston's forecheck well in the first two games.
As the team's leading faceoff man (56 percent) coming into this series and the only player above 50 percent, Toews must improve in the dot.
As the chart below shows, Toews isn't the only Blackhawks top-six forward who has struggled in this series, but as the center on the top line, his ability to generate offense with superb passing skills and winning puck battles along the boards greatly impacts the success of his linemates such as Patrick Kane.
Toews is the type of player who can take over a series and set the tone for his teammates with clutch scoring, spectacular defense and exceptional leadership as one of the league's finest captains.
We saw him do this in Game 7 of the Blackhawks' first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 and at several points in the 2010 playoffs that culminated in Chicago ending its 49-year championship drought with a six-game triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Toews has now gone nine games without scoring a goal, but the Blackhawks have still been able to win games consistently because their depth players, specifically the bottom-six forwards, have contributed to the team's scoring.
This trend isn't likely to continue against a Bruins team that is stronger defensively and has better goaltending than any opponent Chicago has played in this year's playoffs.
The Blackhawks need a much-improved performance from their captain to retake control of this Stanley Cup Final and earn the franchise's second championship in four seasons.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand or from NHL media notes.
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