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Sunday, June 23, 2013
Toews, Bergeron injuries could hit hard

By Scott Burnside



CHICAGO -- After a while, you think you have a sense of the commitment it takes to get this far in the playoffs, the dozens of aches and pains and cuts and bruises that are ignored as though they were nothing.

And then you watch Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals and see Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews clearly too injured to play but nonetheless sitting on the Blackhawks’ bench for the third period of their 3-1 victory.

And you consider the news that the Boston Bruins' top center, Patrice Bergeron, was taken to a Chicago hospital for observation of an undisclosed injury after playing only 6 minutes, 6 seconds.

And it brings into sharper focus just what is being laid on the line in this punishing, emotional series.

"Well, it's been a war. It's been a battle,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's every game, every shift you're fighting for every kind of shift around the ice. It's a fast-paced game. You look at every minute from Game 1 to where we're at today, it's been an amazing series, and relentless hockey, and I commend the guys on both teams for leaving it out on the ice."

At one point, it appeared that Toews -- who was the subject of a number of big hits Saturday, including a punishing hit along the end boards courtesy of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and later a devastating open-ice hit in the slot in the second period by Johnny Boychuk -- was lobbying Quenneville to put him back on the ice.

"I checked on him a couple times there. I think he wanted to play, but we'll see," Quenneville said.

Forward Andrew Shaw said Toews continued to encourage his teammates even though it was obvious he wasn’t going on the ice.

"It showed what kind of leader he is," Shaw said. "It was great. He was talking to us a little, just telling us to ... play solid D, block shots and just work really hard."

No one knows whether Toews or Bergeron will be in the lineup for Game 6 on Monday night in Boston, when the Stanley Cup will be in the house and the Blackhawks will have a chance to earn their second championship in four years.

Boston coach Claude Julien had no details to share with the media and would not speculate on his most important player’s availability for the team’s second elimination game this spring.

"Well, no update, and I think there's no concern until you get an update,” Julien said. "As far as we're concerned, he's just getting evaluated right now. Not much I can say on his situation."

The coach would not detail whether this was an existing injury that had been exacerbated or something that had happened during an early 4-on-4 situation.

"It's just an injury that wasn't able to let him finish the game. He may be in next game. I'm not going there," Julien said.

It is a curious part of the hockey culture that when injuries are involved, an almost instant divide opens between the player and the team. Not only is there little information provided during a playoff series (see the Blackhawks' reticence to discuss Marian Hossa’s status earlier in the series), but there is a conscious separation of the healthy and the injured.

It’s not heartless but it’s about separating yourself from things you can't control.

The Bruins must win a game in order to play one more game after that.

Ruminating on the loss of Bergeron does not help them prepare for that task. The fact that Bergeron represents so many valuable qualities to the team -- faceoffs, his knack for producing key goals at key times, his defensive responsibility -- makes turning away from his loss even more important for the Bruins.

"Obviously, it’s tough,” Boston center David Krejci said. "You don’t want to see one of your best players go down, especially at this time of the year. We definitely missed him, especially at the end of the game, when we needed to score.

"But you know what? It is what it is. I don’t know how he feels right now. I don’t know if he’ll play or not. We really need him. If not, we’re going to fight. We’re going to try to do everything we can to get a win and force Game 7."

The Blackhawks are in a similar position.

They need to push the Bruins over the edge. They would prefer to do it with Toews in the lineup but will pursue that goal with single-minded determination, regardless of who’s wearing a jersey Monday night.

Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said he wasn’t even aware there was anything wrong with Toews.

"I didn't even know what was going on," he said. "We were in a pretty heated game there."

That is the mindset. Worry about your own business. If you’re in, you’re in, if you’re not, someone else gets the tap on the shoulder and had better be ready to do the job.

"You can’t replace a guy like that," Boston center Rich Peverley said. "He’s one of the best players in the league at what he does. Obviously we need other guys to step up.

"We’ll figure out how everything is [Sunday], and then we’ll prepare and prepare to win the game whichever which way we have to."

Peverley has a keen understanding of this kind of dynamic.

Two years ago, when the Bruins dropped the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals in Vancouver, he saw his role increased when Nathan Horton was injured by an Aaron Rome hit in Game 3.

The Bruins would go on to win that series in seven games after losing Game 5 on the road.

We wrote earlier in this 2013 series, after the Bruins had taken a 2-1 series lead, that the battle of these teams’ two heart-and-soul leaders, their most important forwards, was being won by Bergeron. In the past two games, Toews wrestled that distinction away from Bergeron. He scored in Game 4 as the Blackhawks tied the series via a 6-5 overtime win and then added two assists in Game 5 before leaving the game with his injury.

You could argue about which team suffered the most with its respective loss.

The Blackhawks did look out of sorts early in the third period, and it was then that Chara scored the Bruins’ only goal before the period was four minutes old to narrow the gap to 2-1. But in the end, the Bruins could not find the kind of magic they have in other playoff dates and force a fourth overtime game in this series. In large part, that’s because Bergeron has been the magician who has produced those moments, as he did in Game 7 of the opening round against Toronto, first tying the game and then scoring the overtime winner, and against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals, scoring the winner in double overtime in Game 3.

That the Blackhawks won in spite of Toews’ absence in the third might suggest they might be better equipped to survive his absence. But that doesn’t necessarily hold true.

"Right now our goal is to create a Game 7, and to create a Game 7, you’ve got to win Game 6. So that's our approach to it," Julien said. "Again, there is no panic. You're not going to push us away that easily. We're a committed group, and we plan on bouncing back."

One thing is certain: Neither coach wants to contemplate that kind of reality, even if this is the kind of series that has forced both teams into unpleasant territory.