BOSTON - Jonathan Toews means everything to the Chicago Blackhawks, and Patrice Bergeron is the same to the Boston Bruins. This has been a classic Stanley Cup final in large part because those players have put in peak performances.
Toews and Bergeron left Game 5 with injuries and it's uncertain if either will play in Game 6 Monday night in Boston. If they aren't able to, or do at less than 100 per cent, it changes the dynamic of the series as the Blackhawks are one win away from celebrating another championship.
"Both great players. I think any coach in the league, any player in the league would like to have those guys on their team," Chicago left-winger Patrick Sharp said. "I can't speak for what Boston is dealing with, with Bergeron. I know I don't need to say much about Jonathan. I think everyone knows what we think of him in our locker-room."
Take out the locker-room and just look at the production on the ice, and it's probable that no two players have had a bigger influence on the Cup final than Toews and Bergeron. Coach Joel Quenneville reuniting Toews and Patrick Kane might've been exactly what the Blackhawks needed to cure their offensive woes, while Bergeron is as consistent an all-around performer as anyone will find in the NHL.
"He does everything right, basically," Bruins left-winger Brad Marchand said. "He's such a great face-off guy and it really gives us the opportunity to start with the puck a lot. He's very tough to play against defensively, and he's been doing a very good job at playing against their top guys."
Boston coach Claude Julien called Bergeron day-to-day with a "body" injury. Quenneville said the Blackhawks were "optimistic" that Toews would play in Game 6 given that he was feeling much better Sunday.
It would be hard to replicate what either centre does well. Goaltender Tuukka Rask conceded that the Bruins cannot replace Bergeron.
"You adapt and play a different game out there," he said. "We can't feel sorry for ourselves if he's missing. We just have to play with the guys that we have."
With the Stanley Cup in the building, it might be easier for players on both sides to get tunnel vision on their own tasks and set aside injuries, even if they're to such vital leaders.
"Everybody has got an ice bag here or there or everywhere," Quenneville said. "But they'll do whatever it takes to get out on the ice. I think that being aware of what they're capable of and trying to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency based on what they can give you."
Julien and Quenneville each won a title because of an ability to maximize the effectiveness of an entire roster. This time it helps that the Bruins and Blackhawks have been in this spot before.
In 2010, Chicago led the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 and won Game 6 on the road. That familiarity gives the Blackhawks some confidence, but they know their Bruins history, too.
"It's a similar feeling," Kane said. "You've got to be careful, you’ve seen a couple years ago Boston was down 3-2, they won at home and then won Game 7 in Vancouver. We know this team is capable of coming back."
The Blackhawks and Bruins are banged-up all over the place, with injuries to Marian Hossa and Nathan Horton being the most prominent. That is, until Toews and Bergeron went down.
It's hard to gauge amid the uncertainty and subterfuge how those injuries will impact Game 6, but the coaches are trying to maintain focus on their own lineups.
"I think I should be looking in my backyard and make sure I've got my guys playing tomorrow before I start worrying about the game plan with them," Julien said. "I can prepare in different ways in my mind, and once I find out whether all our guys are in our lineup and whether all their guys are in or out, probably you can adjust to some things in your game plan according to that.
"But right now we know it's up to us to play our game and to bring our A-game if we want a chance to win. That part of it should be more important than who they have and don't have in their lineup."