Toews continues to perform ahead of his years

NASHVILLE -- He's only 21, yet what Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has accomplished already would represent a fine career for many players.

In Monday's 5-3 series-clinching victory over the Nashville Predators, Chicago's preternaturally young leader scored what ended up being the game-winning goal in the first period, then played 2 minutes, 25 seconds of shorthanded hockey in the third period when the Blackhawks had to kill off three power plays by the Predators to preserve their one-goal lead.

John Madden added an empty-net goal with eight seconds left in regulation.

For someone who was named the best forward at the 2010 Olympic tournament, scoring Canada's first goal en route to its 3-2 gold-medal victory and recording a tournament-high seven assists, Monday's achievement is starting to look like the kind fans are going to start to expect regularly from Toews.

"Yeah, Johnny's like that," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "He knows when the games are on the line he wants to be out there. He seems to get bigger and better the higher the stage. But you got to love the way he wants the puck, his speed, tenacity, positioning defensively.

"Over time, he just continues to get better and it's a good sign. I think his Olympics probably illustrates his whole career how it's gone -- he got better and better as the tournament went on."

Toews' goal, his second of the series, was brutal in its efficiency in killing Nashville's hopes. The Preds had fought back to tie the game at 3-3 but Toews put Chicago ahead 4-3 24 seconds after Nashville's equalizer.

At times in this series, Chicago converted its power plays in mere seconds -- in huge contrast to Nashville which tallied only one power play goal in the six games.

Toews' goal was one of those times. Patrick Sharp won a faceoff back to Duncan Keith at the point. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne stopped the slap shot, but Toews was positioned at the doorstep to put in the rebound with 31 seconds left in the period.

"Had the goal at the end of the first period and that was a big one for us," Toews said. "Didn't know it was going to work out to be the winning goal."

Right wing Marian Hossa, who had two assists on the night, said of Toews, "He's our leader. He's been great. Perfect play. He was in the right spot at the right time. He didn't have a problem to put it in."

Toews said such a tightly-played series with Nashville should benefit Chicago when it encounters high-scoring Vancouver in the next round.

"We can take a lot of things from this series, as far as playing so smart in our end, making them force the plays and make mistakes and take advantage of that," he said.

"We're an offensive team. We're a team that likes to have the puck at all times, but against a team like this it frustrates you, so if we can have that patience, have that workmanlike attitude again going into this series, we'll get our breaks, we'll get our chances."