- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Win or lose, up in a playoff series or down, struggling to find the back of the net or operating at an almost otherworldly level, it would be difficult to tell which player represented which state.
Maybe that’s why both have won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best two-way forward the past two seasons.
Maybe that’s why both represent both the heartbeat of their respective teams, their teams' conscience, as it were.
For instance, anyone imagining that Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks' captain, might have been rattled or visibly disappointed at the team’s 2-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals Monday night would have been disappointed.
"We know we’ve got to be better in the next one,” Toews told a gaggle of reporters gathered around his stall in the Blackhawks’ sweltering postgame dressing room. "And find ways to score, get that confidence in that game back. I don’t think we’re discouraged or frustrated at all having said that."
Anyone looking for self-loathing from a man who has scored but one goal in the postseason would likewise be disappointed despite the fact it must be eating away at Toews not to be doing more offensively to help his team.
Regardless of his struggles offensively, Toews remains the kind of player who does not cheat, does not take shortcuts.
On Monday, with Marian Hossa unable to play thanks to an upper-body injury, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville juggled his lines and moved Toews onto a line with Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger, who normally fulfill fourth-line duties for the Blackhawks, for the early part of the game.
Was the captain surprised that he did not warrant more skilled linemates?
"No. It’s always good to shake things up a little bit,” Toews said. "You might get a little chemistry. And for myself playing against [David] Krejci’s line for the most part with Kruger and Frolik at the start of the game, I think we did a good job and kept them in their end for the most part. We just got to find a way to score."
He certainly did his part.
He led all Blackhawks with five shots on goal. He made offensive plays that could not be finished by teammates. And he kept his talented Bruins counterparts off the scoresheet.
"Part of your job is to keep them off the scoresheet and the other half of your job is to find ways to score big goals for your team. Did one thing, got to do the other," Toews said.
Down the hallway, in a similarly overheated Bruins room, Bergeron’s calmness in the face of a crucial final-series victory belied his significant role in his team’s success.
Where Toews has yet to be rewarded for his diligence, Bergeron’s diligence continues to be a catalyst to the Bruins’ methodical, and what now seems inexorable, march to a second Stanley Cup win in three years.
Bergeron won an incredible 24 of 28 faceoffs Monday night while Toews won only eight of 19.
Bergeron also led all skaters on either team with seven shots.
"Especially against a team like Chicago, you’ve got to go hard every shift,” Bergeron said. "You can’t take a shift off. Our start was something we talked about, and carried that on into the second and third periods as well. I thought we did a decent job. Obviously, it wasn’t perfect by any means, but at this point of the year you’ve got to take the wins and move on and focus on the next game."
Bergeron was, as always, a key defender both five-on-five and on the penalty kill. On this night, the Bruins killed off all five Chicago power plays and now have denied the Blackhawks on 11 straight man-advantage opportunities in the finals. Throw in the 15 straight against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals and one late in the second round, and the Bruins have denied opponents on 27 straight power plays.
When the game was over, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville pointed to the power play and the lopsided losses in the faceoff circle (they won only 16 of 56 draws) as the key moments in the loss.
"Those were basically the differentials in the game," Quenneville said.
In the second period, with the Bruins holding a 1-0 lead, it was Bergeron who delivered the knockout blow by snapping home a delightful Jaromir Jagr feed on the power play.
Still, Bergeron is one of those rare players -- like any Selke winner, frankly -- who thrives on either side of the puck, relishes the moments of defensive strength as much as offensive prowess.
"I take pride in it. I take pride in both sides,” Bergeron said. "Don’t get me wrong here, I love to be in the offensive zone, but yeah, it is about doing the job there and don’t spend too much time [so] we go on the attack."
On the eve of these Stanley Cup finals, Toews denied Bergeron what would have been his second straight Selke Trophy, edging him out by a scant 10 voting points.
It was an award that quickly became swallowed by the drama that has been this final series.
But as the Bruins look to extend their domination at home in the playoffs -- they have now won seven straight at home -- the battle between these two great players and leaders has become at the moment distinctly one-sided.
If the Blackhawks are going to get back in this series, it seems undeniable that Toews will have to alter that equation.
Given the way Bergeron is playing, we’re not entirely sure it can be done.
9dJoe McDonald and Kyle Brasseur
45dKyle Brasseur, Special to ESPNBoston.com