By Adrian Dater
Jonathan Toews was the last player to leave the ice on Saturday night, after slapping high gloves with Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford in celebration of their 3-1 win over Boston in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. (Wasn’t going high to the glove side supposed to be the one thing Chicago didn’t want anyone to do with Crawford?)
That exchange was the only time Chicago's captain put his skates to the ice after the second intermission at the United Center, and it begged a huge question: How could Toews sit on the bench, in uniform, but not play at all during the third period? Did he suffer another concussion after taking a Johnny Boychuk hit to the head while cutting across the slot in the second? If it was a suspected concussion, wouldn’t Toews have been required to spend the rest of the night in the “quiet room” as mandated by NHL protocol?
Blackhawks players such as Patrick Sharp said they knew that Toews wouldn’t be able to play in the third, but that the captain would be allowed to sit on the bench anyway.
“We’re hopeful he’ll be ready next game,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said at the podium afterward. “Upper body. We’ll see.”
Another question that will linger over the next 12 hours or so: Was Boychuk’s hit worth a suspension?
The Bruins' defenseman did what an NHL player at his position is taught to do when an opponent cuts across the middle right in front of the net: He hit him hard. Toews was not fully upright as he skated from right to left and tried to get a shot off. Boychuk caught him with a big hit up high, but whether the head was the intended target of initial contact will be up to NHL player safety czar Brendan Shanahan to determine. It may have been Toews’ head hitting the ice -- not the hit from Boychuk itself -- that was the main cause of the injury.
It also seemed like Boychuk had his hands up during the hit and arguably led with a forearm or elbow. But again, that will be up to Shanahan.
In any other situation, Toews’ status for Game 6 would be the dominant off-day storyline, but Boston also has a center whose health everyone wants to know more about: Patrice Bergeron. After going in for a seemingly routine check into the end boards during the second period, Bergeron hurt something. The Bruins weren’t even specifying “upper” or “lower” with regard to the approximate location of his injury, but he played only 49 seconds in the period and soon after left for a Chicago hospital. Coach Claude Julien gave no prognosis on his indispensable pivot, but held out hope that Bergeron might be a go for Game 6. However, reports circulated that Bergeron may have suffered a ruptured spleen, an injury that could keep him sidelined for six months.
We don't yet know the extent of these injuries, but it can safely be said that they were serious enough for Toews and Bergeron to not play on in a pivotal Cup final match.
The saying in hockey is that no matter where an injury is located, “It’s a long way from the heart.” Stories of players soldiering on while hurt in the playoffs are part of the sport’s lore -- e.g. Boston’s Gregory Campbell limping around on a broken leg while helping to kill off a penalty in the Eastern Conference finals -- so there's a decent chance that if Toews or Bergeron can go in Game 6, they will.
In the 1999 Cup final, Dallas Stars forward Benoit Hogue played with a torn ACL. Teammate Brett Hull had a groin muscle torn to shreds, but he was sound enough to score the series-winner in Game 6. Mike Modano played with a broken wrist. And we all know the story of Bobby Baun playing on a broken ankle while scoring for Toronto in overtime of Game 6 against Detroit in 1964.
Come Monday, it will be a shock if either Toews or Bergeron isn't in uniform. Because it’s the Cup, of course.