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Jonathan Toews was the last player to leave the ice Saturday night, having just slapped high glove with Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford in celebration of his team’s 3-1 Game 5 victory of the Stanley Cup final against Boston.
(Did someone say high glove? Wasn’t that supposed to be the one place you didn’t want to go, from a Chicago perspective?).
That was the only time the Chicago captain put skates to ice after the second intermission at the United Center, which created more questions than it answered.
Why could Toews sit on the bench, in uniform, but not play at all in the third? Did he suffer another concussion, after taking a Johnny Boychuk hit to the head area while cutting across the slot in the second period? 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 concussion protocol?
Blackhawks players such as Patrick Sharp said they knew 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 on 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 in his position is taught to do: if an opponent is cutting across the middle right in front of your net, hit him hard. Toews was not fully upright as he cut 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 director of player safety 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 injury.
Boychuk had his hands up on 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 has a center whose health everyone wants to know more about too in Patrice Bergeron. After going in for a seemingly routine check into the endboards in the second period, Bergeron hurt something. The Bruins weren’t even specifying “upper” or “lower” as to the approximate location of his injury, but he would play only 49 seconds in the period and left for a Chicago hospital soon after. Coach Claude Julien gave no prognosis on his indispensable center, but held out hope Bergeron might be a go for Game 6.
Nobody knows the extent of the injuries, but it can safely be said otherwise: Toews and Bergeron have to have suffered serious injuries for them not to play on in the rubber match of a Cup final to this point.
The saying in hockey is, no matter where an injury is located, “It’s a long way from the heart.” Stories of players playing hurt in the playoffs are part of the sport’s lore – remember Boston’s Gregory Campbell limping around on a broken leg to help kill off a penalty in the Eastern final? – and chances are decent Toews or Bergeron or both will give it a go for a Game 6 Monday.
In the 1999 Cup final, Dallas Stars forward Benoit Hogue played with a torn ACL. Teammate Brett Hull played with a groin muscle torn to shreds (but was sound enough to score the series winner in Game 6). Mike Modano played with a broken wrist. We all know the story of Bobby Baun playing on a broken leg to score the overtime Game 6 series winner for Toronto in 1964 against Detroit.
Toews and Bergeron may not have been able to play on Saturday night. But come Monday, it will be a shock if at least one isn’t in uniform. Because, it’s the Cup of course.