Cam Cole: Scarcely a razor’s width separating teams as Blackhawks one win away from another Stanley Cup
Boston centre Patrice Bergeron taken to hospital for observation of unknown injury
CHICAGO — No one was certain what happened to Patrice Bergeron. Everyone saw what happened to Jonathan Toews.
But as an allegory for the state of playoff hockey in the National Hockey League, it’s probably fitting — not pleasant, but just about what you’d expect — that the No. 1 forward on each of the Stanley Cup finalists may not be able to finish the series because of injury.
And what a series. The Hawks’ 3-1 win Saturday night at United Center sends them into Boston with a chance to eliminate the Bruins on Monday, but there has scarcely been a razor’s width separating the teams over the long haul.
It is also entirely in keeping with past conduct (his and the team’s; maybe every team’s) that Toews — the Chicago captain who’s had concussion problems in his career and who took a forearm shiver to the back of the head when he got caught on the tracks by Boston defenceman Johnny Boychuk in the second period — was back on the bench in the third, even though he couldn’t play.
The Madhouse on Madison is no one’s idea of a quiet room, but in the playoffs, pretty much every other rule is ignored, so why not the concussion protocol?
“I don’t think there was a defining blow, I’m not sure exactly the incident,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “Upper body, you know. I checked on him a couple of times, I think he wanted to play, but ... we’ll see.”
So the fact that he was on the bench rules out concussion?
“Nah, we’re just hoping’ he’ll be ready to play. We’ll see how he is. We’re hopeful he can play.”
Bergeron, the crafty Bruins centre who was probably the team’s top Conn Smythe candidate heading into Saturday night’s Game 5, played only a single, short shift in the second period before moving gingerly to the bench and then the dressing room, and was seen eschewing a gurney and entering an ambulance under his own power before the third period began. The rumour was an internal injury, perhaps spleen, but we’ll know tomorrow, or ... some day.
Toews, elbowed in the head early by Zdeno Chara in a collision in the corner, left shortly after being crushed by Boychuk as the Blackhawk centre tried to cut into the middle of the ice late in the second period.
“I came across and read it and hit him,” said Boychuk. “I tried to hit him clean and I thought it was. I don’t know how he fell, awkwardly, but I’m going to try to play physical and he’s going to drive the net like he’s supposed to and I’m going to hit.”
Earlier in the game, Bruins defenceman Dennis Seidenberg was penalized for boarding on a hit from behind that drove Hawks’ Marcus Kruger into the boards. Another Boston defenceman, Adam McQuaid, cross-checked Chicago forward Andrew Shaw in the face.
And that was no accidental love-tap Chara, who has been on the ice now for seven of the last eight Chicago goals, laid on Toews early on. Toews had said the Hawks felt they exposed Chara in Game 4, and it’s not too much of a reach to think the great 6-foot-9 oak tree — who scored the lone Bruins goal on a rocket that no goalie, let alone Corey Crawford, could have got a glove on — was letting him know he didn’t appreciate it.
Bruins’ Nathan Horton is labouring with a chronically dislocated shoulder. Hawks’ Marian Hossa is nursing an undisclosed injury.
And so another Stanley Cup Final is apt to be decided by attrition, and who survives it best. That has a habit of happening with the Bruins, who seem to win more of them than they lose when the body count starts to rise.
“Well, it’s been a war, been a battle,” said Quenneville, careful not to inflame the debate by pointing any fingers.
Considering that the clinching goal — David Bolland’s empty-netter with 14 seconds left — was created by a flagrant trip of Boston’s Torey Krug by Michael Frolik — he’s probably wise to leave officiating out of it.
“Every game, every shift, you’re fighting for every inch of space on the ice, and it’s a fast-paced game,” said Quenneville, and that’s no lie.
“You look at every minute from Game 1 to where we’re at today, it’s been an amazing series and relentless hockey and both teams have really been leaving it out on the ice.”
If the Bruins were keen to lean as heavily on Toews as possible, part of it was because his line — with Patrick Kane, who scored the first two Chicago goals Saturday and big Bryan Bickell — have been a force since reuniting for Game 4.
And Bickell poked the bear, too, early on after the Chara hit on Toews. He responded with hits on David Krejci and Chara, the second of which almost resulted in a dust-up with Boston’s Milan Lucic, who was ready to drop the mitts, but Bickell declined.
“I think physically we’ve got to respond the right way,” said Quenneville. “Utilize our speed, go into tough areas, don’t get distracted from going where we’ve gotta go. Bicks had a couple of big hits on one shift that really got things going, too. I think they can be more physical than us, but at the same time, just don’t get distracted from where we’ve gotta travel. And that’s been the case.”
As for what it means for both teams now, if their top forwards are out, it’s probably more harmful to the Bruins, considering the level Bergeron was playing at after four games.
Then again, if Toews’s injury derails Kane, who’s been growing in confidence ...
“I didn’t even realize he wasn’t playing until the last 10 minutes, maybe, when I was lookin’ to see who I was going out there with,” said defenceman Duncan Keith.
“Obviously, he’s a big part of this team, he was there for us (on the bench), but I noticed Bergeron wasn’t out there for them, too, so maybe that equalizes it a little bit.”
Equalizes by subtracting huge talent from both sides, though. That doesn’t seem like a very good trade, for the game.
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