Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates with Jonathan Toews #19 after defeating the Boston Bruins in Game Five of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final at United Center on June 22, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins 3-1.
Photograph by: Jamie Squire, Getty Images
BOSTON — There are two main truisms about injuries this late in the Stanley Cup playoffs:
1. Everybody has ’em.
2. Nobody talks about ’em.
Any nugget you pick up around the rink that you think is a scoop is probably bunk: either intentional misinformation or outright disinformation. They used to go as far as admitting that it was upper-body or lower-body, now it’s just “body.” A guy could show up encased from head to toe in a body cast, with a breathing tube and catheter, and he’d be listed as day-to-day.
That was Boston Bruin coach Claude Julien’s description Sunday of the condition of his best forward, Patrice Bergeron, who exited Saturday night’s 3-1 Game 5 loss in Chicago in the second period and went to the hospital in an ambulance, pursued by hints of a possible spleen injury. By Sunday, the rumour was kidney.
Bergeron was released Saturday night and flew home with his teammates on Sunday morning.
“Body injury. Day-to-day,” said Julien, getting dead silence for a reaction. “Well, isn't that good enough?”
Later, en francais, he was a little more forthcoming. But only a little.
“We'll know more tomorrow, and we'll see,” Julien said, “but it's encouraging news, especially given what we saw yesterday. (That) was maybe a little less encouraging.”
How did he look?
“He looked really good today, had a nice suit on, very dashing,” said Brad Marchand, ever helpful.
And Jonathan Toews, the Chicago captain, who didn’t play in the third period after taking one of those legal forearms to the head from Boston defenceman Johnny Boychuk late in the second, but sat on the bench anyway, resting his aching melon, as per league protocol, in the Blackhawks’ 22,000-seat quiet room?
“Johnny is doing much better today. He's progressed,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “We're optimistic that he might be playing tomorrow night.”
Well, of course.
It’s the Stanley Cup final, and in a twisted sort of way, even those who hate the annual war on skill that takes place in it, the brutal toll it takes on the best players ... even the peaceniks and the concussion activists and the parents who swear they will never sign their kids up for this occasionally barbaric sport have a hard time not admiring the courage -- misguided as it may be -- that drives the clearly injured player to say: “Put me in, coach. I’m fine.”
“It’s not the best situation for either team, or the fans, for that matter,” Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said, of the potential absence of each team’s No. 1 centre from Monday night’s sixth game of a series the Blackhawks lead 3-2.
“But it’s a tough sport and injuries happen. When you leave it all out there and try to help your team win games, injuries happen.”
Boston’s Nathan Horton has a shoulder that dislocates periodically and can be yanked back into place, but hurts like hell while it’s out. He can’t hit anyone right now, so what had been the hottest line in hockey -- playoff scoring leader David Krejci between Horton and Milan Lucic -- has come to a screeching halt in this series.
“Oh, I’m fine,” Horton said Sunday, his left eyebrow sporting six or so fresh stitches. “I mean, I just haven’t had the opportunities ... there’s not a lot of room.”
Hawks’ Marian Hossa is like a hologram of himself since missing Game 3 with an undisclosed injury and returning to half-play Games 4 and 5.
“He's getting better, and we expect him to play,” said Coach Q.
Bruins’ 6-foot-9 defenceman Zdeno Chara, historically the place where scoring chances go to die, has been on the ice for eight of the last nine goals the Blackhawks have scored. He’s still logging huge minutes, but he could be wearing down.
“Well, you know, plus/minus sometimes can be flukey short-term,” said Quenneville, not about to pour gasoline on the flames. “But we know what he's capable of.”
“I don't think Zee has been a bad player for us,” said Julien. “You look at all the goals, just because he's on the ice doesn't mean they're his fault.”
Or Chara could be injured. Good luck finding out.
As touchy as the coaches are, the players are equally so. Even an innocent question about how shocked the general public would be if they could see how banged up both teams are by this point in the playoffs drew a blank.
“Yeah, well they can’t have a look inside our room, so...,” said Marchand.
“I don’t know if anyone has any idea. Everyone has some kind of bruise. It’s not what anyone’s thinking about right now,” said Horton, who’s not about to pull himself out of this series after being knocked out of the 2011 Cup final series in Game 3 on a straight-up hit, a fraction late, by Vancouver’s Aaron Rome, for which Rome was suspended the balance of the series.
Boychuk’s hit on Toews, who had to know he was going into forbidden territory when he cut into the middle of the slot, was not so different. But if there ever was a standard on these things, nowadays it fluctuates like gas prices.
To an extent, the coaches both accept that attrition in the playoffs is the cost of doing business. You play four rounds against increasingly good teams -- which these days means bigger and faster -- and by the end, it’s as much about survival and will as anything.
“Yeah, you touch wood sometimes knowing that you're going to have some issues,” said Quenneville. “You're going to have some good days and bad days in that department. You can't forecast that. But everybody deals with some type of an issue.
“Everybody has got an ice bag here or there or everywhere. But they'll do whatever it takes to get out on the ice. I think it’s just being aware of what they're capable of, and trying to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency based on what they can give you.”
Sometimes what they can give you isn’t anything like they could have given you two months ago, but both teams are dealing with it.
“It's like that every year,” said Julien. “When it's all said and done and you hear those stories of what guys have played through, those guys deserve a lot of credit.
“I've never been a coach to push guys to play, because if they don't want to, I don't want them in my lineup. So the guys that you see in our lineup are guys that want to play. This is where they deserve a lot of credit, because if they can and if medically they're cleared and they want to -- and being medically cleared doesn’t mean they’re 100% -- I'm not going to hold them back.”
Quenneville held Toews, who is merely The Franchise, back in the third period. He couldn’t keep him off the bench, but wouldn’t let him on the ice.
Julien had a star player go to hospital in an ambulance for some mysterious, probably internal, injury and two nights later he will ask himself if he dares risk him in a game that the Bruins can’t afford to lose.
They will both want to play. Who’s going to let them?
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