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Stanley Cup 2013: High hit threatens to knock Jonathan Toews out of final

Jonathan Toews has been a force for the Blackhawks, but is questionable for Game 6. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jonathan Toews has been a force for the Blackhawks, but is questionable for Game 6. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – For all of Game 4 and much of Game 5, the Boston Bruins were powerless to stop the double-headed monster known as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Then along came Johnny Boychuk.

And with one double-forearm shiver to Toews’ head, Boychuk might just have changed the complexion of the Stanley Cup final. To be sure, if Toews misses the rest of the final and the Bruins come back to win the series in seven, Boychuk should receive consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy for his second period hit. And as an added bonus, he got away with it, despite the fact Boychuk’s head shot on Toews had Rule 48, Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres written all over it.

The Blackhawks prevailed 3-1 in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the series heading to Boston, despite the fact Toews spent the entire third period as a spectator from the Blackhawks bench. If they have to play without Toews, it will be an enormous blow considering all he has accomplished in the past two games. The only thing that would even that out is if the Bruins are without Patrice Bergeron, who appeared to catch a rut in the ice earlier in the game and left to be examined at a Chicago hospital.

But the Bergeron injury was innocuous. The Toews injury was not. This was not Harry Sinden telling Bobby Clarke to go out and slash Valery Kharlamov across the ankles, but it was a reckless, careless, respectless hit that should carry a suspension. But even if the wheel of fortune the league tends to use in these cases lands on ‘Suspension,’ so what? The Blackhawks lose one of their most valuable players and the Bruins lose a No. 4 defenseman. The tradeoff is not even close and the Blackhawks should be livid about it. For a bunch of guys who are supposed to be watching the game as closely as the Hawks and their coach, nobody seemed to see the hit. They were all tying their skates or sucking wind or doing Sudoko puzzles for all we know, but you can bet they will be lobbying for some form of supplementary discipline on Boychuk.

And if Toews could not play in the third period, how could it not be a concussion? Guy gets hit hard in the head, plus guy doesn’t come back to play usually equals concussion, no? And unless either Toews is a very, very quick healer or he and the Blackhawks are willing to risk further scrambling his brain for the sake of a Stanley Cup, it’s difficult to imagine he would be ready for Game 6. And that is a shame.

If the Hawks must prevail without Toews, it will be intriguing to see what they can accomplish. Andrew Shaw is a gamer and all, but can he be expected to make the kind of contribution Toews has? Of course not, so it’s now up to Kane and Bryan Bickell to keep their level of play up. The good news for the Blackhawks is Kane had three shots and Bickell two in the third period with Toews on the bench.

And if Bergeron is out, that means the past two winners of the Selke Trophy will be out of the series. There was speculation Bergeron’s injury is spleen related and if it’s that, he’s almost certainly done. Peter Forsberg had to have surgery to remove a ruptured spleen in 2001 and missed all of the Western Conference final and Stanley Cup final. Until Game 4, Bergeron was providing the Bruins with much more than Toews was the Blackhawks and missing his presence will be just as devastating. He has been a wizard in the faceoff circle, has been a force offensively and until Game 4, was doing a Conn Smythe-worthy job of shutting down the Blackhawks best offensive players.

Neither Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville nor Bruins coach Claude Julien was particularly forthcoming about the status of their star players, which is understandable. Quenneville would only say Toews has an upper-body injury and the Blackhawks are “hopeful (Toews) will be ready next game.” Julien said of Bergeron: “He may be in the next game. I’m not going there.”

Speaking of not going there, the Bruins didn’t manage to get many pucks near Blackhawk goalie Corey Crawford’s infamous glove hand. In fact, there were only two of them, one of which went in the net. The Blackhawks held the Bruins eight right-handed shooters to just 10 of the 25 shots on the night, shots that would have a better probability of going glove-high on the left-handed catching Crawford.

“We were trying to limit their point-blank, one-time chances in the high slot, that’s for sure,” said Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith. “That’s just being better defensively and that’s what it comes down to – being better in our own zone and not having guys open for one-time shots and being able to walk right in and shoot the puck. Help our goalie out a little bit here.”

The Stanley Cup final has not gone to overtime of Game 7 for 59 years, but this one has the distinct feel that might be possible. The two teams are that close. To be sure, nobody would be surprised if the Bruins won on home ice Monday night to send the series to Game 7 Wednesday night. And if Toews can’t play in that game, their chances of doing so go up exponentially.

Related Links

THREE STARS
1. Patrick Kane: Scored first two goals of the game that gave the Blackhawks a cushioned lead they never relinquished.

2. Jonathan Toews: 'Captain Serious' gets two assists before being removed from the game in the third.

3. Corey Crawford: Rebounded with sturdy play after glove hand was exposed in Game 4. Turned aside 24 shots and maintained lead.

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