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Jonathan Toews says winning only thing on Blackhawks’ minds

The Red Wings have done all they can frustrate Hawks captaJonathan Toews series. | Gregory Shamus~Getty Images

The Red Wings have done all they can to frustrate Hawks captain Jonathan Toews in the series. | Gregory Shamus~Getty Images

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Updated: June 26, 2013 6:14AM

Jonathan Toews grudgingly skated to the penalty box for the third time in 5 minutes and 34 seconds, and the look on his face spoke volumes to longtime teammate Brent Seabrook. With the Blackhawks trailing in the second period and the Western Conference semifinals starting to slip away, Seabrook skated over to the box and had a quick word with Toews — because as the captain goes, so go the Hawks.

“I just tried to calm him down,” Seabrook said. “We need him. He’s the best player on the team and our leader, and if the rest of the group sees him like that, it’s going to trickle down. So we need him to be focused and ready. I just told him to sit down and take a couple of deep breaths, and be ready to be back out there, because we need him. He’s our best player.”

Calm down. Deep breaths. Be focused.

Seabrook’s pep talk might as well have been to the whole team.

The Hawks trail the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 in the Western Conference semifinals, and need to win three straight — starting with Saturday night’s Game 5 at the United Center — to prevent their dream season from ending in nightmarish fashion. The Hawks have lost three straight. They’ve scored two goals in their last three games. They come up empty on 11 straight power plays. And they’re on the brink of a stunning elimination at the hands of their oldest rivals.

Despite all that, Toews and Co. again put on a brave face Friday afternoon. The message? Well, like Seabrook said — deep breaths. All is calm. All is well.

“What’s there to be down about?” Toews said. “Obviously, we’re not where we want to be in the series, but dwelling on that and feeling sorry for ourselves isn’t going to do anything.”

The Hawks held a team meeting before an optional practice — Toews, Seabrook and Brandon were the big-name participants — where the message was simple. You can’t win three until you win one.

So never mind the daunting task that lay ahead. And never mind the possible repercussions that could shake the foundation of the team should the Hawks suffer a third straight early exit, particularly after a season of such promise.

Never has the “one game at a time” cliché been so apt.

“You’ve got to think about winning,” Toews said. “That’s the only thing that should be on our mind. Everything’s got to be positive. You can’t be thinking what-if. If you have anything like that cross your mind, Detroit’s too good of a team. We’re not thinking about that at all.”

While Toews’ job is obviously one of the safest in all of sports, the captain has been shouldering much of the criticism this series. The 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy winner has no goals and three assists in nine games this postseason. He’s actually played quite well and has generated some quality chances the last two games. In fact, the Hawks have put together two strong efforts. Detroit’s simply been better.

“He’s one of the best players in the world, he’s a hard worker and he’s going to work through this,” Seabrook said of Toews. “I think we all take the burden for being down 3-1. We all win as a group, we lose as a group. Just because one guy’s not scoring doesn’t mean he’s going to win the game or lose the game for us.”

Said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville: “He’s a true leader and he’s everything that represents our organization in the right fashion. You couldn’t ask for a better captain or a better competitor than Johnny.”

But Toews knows the pressure’s on him, as well as on the other big names who’ve been largely absent this series, including Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.

“I think when things go well for our team, sometimes I get maybe more credit than I deserve, and same goes the other way,” Toews said. “I understand that’s part of it, and our best players need to be our best players. We need to lead and we need to grab the rope and start pulling for the rest of the guys. It starts with myself.”

And it starts on Saturday. Toews, as he’s been saying all week now, believes the Hawks are agonizingly close to breaking through — one puck that hits the post and goes in rather than out, one greasy goal in a crowded crease, one seeing-eye shot from the point on the power play.

Then the floodgates will open. He believes this. The team believes this. At this point, they have to.

“There’s a good feeling in the locker room, and the guys are very confident that we’re very close to finding a way to win one game,” Toews said. “And when we do that, we know all that confidence and momentum’s going to come rushing back. That’s what we’re focused on. That’s the only thing we can worry about.”

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