Johnny Boychuk caught Jonathan Toews with this controversial hit in Game 5. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
No matter which way you cut it, there’s something very, very strange about the way the Chicago Blackhawks are handling the Jonathan Toews injury heading into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final.
Toews has skated with a target on his back – and his head - in two series so far. The Detroit Red Wings pounded him and the Boston Bruins are doing the same. And they’re both pretty much getting away with it. In Game 5 of the final, Toews took an elbow to the head in the first period from Zdeno Chara, a high hit along the boards from Dennis Seidenberg and an unsuspended head shot from Johnny Boychuk in front of the net.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday the team is, “optimistic that (Toews) might play (Monday) night.” That, of course, would be good news for the Blackhawks, but it does bring up some troubling scenarios.
Scenario No. 1: Toews sustained a concussion, but will play in Game 6 regardless.
We don’t even need to speak about how irresponsible this would be of everyone involved if this is the case. What we know about concussions right now is only the tip of the iceberg, but everyone can agree on one thing – the cumulative effect of subsequent concussions sustained when the original is not fully healed are very serious.
The risk of exposing Toews to another concussion, if he has one now, is not worth it. Not for a Stanley Cup, not for anything. We’re talking about someone’s life here.
Scenario No. 2: The Blackhawks held Toews out of the third period in Game 5 as a precautionary measure, but allowed him to remain on the bench.
If the Blackhawks suspected Toews sustained a concussion, even if there was the slightest chance, what on earth was he doing on the bench in an arena with 22,274 screaming fans and enough between-the-whistles noise and lights to assault the senses of a non-concussed person? And, hey, just spitballing here, but whatever happened to the ever popular Quiet Room? Research suggests your brain needs to rest after sustaining a concussion. Being on the bench and watching the game isn’t resting.
Quenneville at least had the good sense to tell Toews in no uncertain terms that he would not play even one shift that period. That’s good, because if you speak to experts in this field, the athlete is the person who should least be trusted in these situations. But, again, if the Blackhawks and Quenneville were so concerned with Toews’ wellbeing, what was he even doing on the bench in the first place?
The word “concussion” was not uttered by the Hawks, either after the game Saturday night or on Sunday. They know that would have opened up a can of worms they didn’t want to deal with. So would have removing Toews from the bench for the third period. This way, if Toews is ready to go Monday night, the Blackhawks don’t have to worry about any question of whether or not Toews had a concussion.
• Few people, this corner included, were shocked that the NHL decided not to impose any supplemental discipline on Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk for his hit on Toews Saturday night.
The fact of the matter is, the league feels the referees made the right call on the ice not giving even a minor penalty. No surprise there either from a league that thinks if you remove double-forearm shivers to the head from the game it will revert to playing 4-on-4 ringette. There seems to be no middle ground with these guys.
At least one person at the league level agreed with the assertion that Boychuk put his arms up to basically defend himself. Forget the fact Boychuk himself basically discounted that notion with his comments after the game (some words italicized for effect): “He was cutting to the net and I came across and read it and hit him. Tried to hit him clean…I’m going to play physical, he’s going to drive the net like he’s supposed to, and I’m going to hit.”
When he puts it that way, it sounds more like the, “I was just finishing my check,” nonsense we seem to hear anytime a player does something like this. Was the hit malicious? Probably not. But it was deliberate; Boychuk said it himself. And it was reckless and displayed not an ounce of respect for the opponent. Yes, Toews cut through the middle with his head down and he should have expected to pay a physical price for that. But he didn’t deserve what Boychuk did to him. That the NHL sees that as a “hockey play” should be chilling words to every skilled player in the league who actually tries to cut to the net and make plays because the league has just declared that it’s open season on them.
One thing I believe affected Boychuk’s judgment is that he was dead-tired on the play. The Bruins had been forced to defend for a long time in their own end and couldn’t get the puck out quickly enough to get a change. In fact, when the hit occurred at 11:47 of the second period, Boychuk was 1:20 into a 1:28 shift, which was his longest of the game and an eternity by hockey standards.
• Bruins center Patrice Bergeron was not available to discuss his injury Sunday, but Bruins coach Claude Julien said Bergeron is: “day-to-day and day-to-day is really good news to me.”
Teammate Brad Marchand said Bergeron looked great on the flight back to Boston Sunday morning and ate well on the flight. “He’s always in a good mood, but he was good,” Marchand told reporters.
All this after Bergeron left the game and was taken to a Chicago hospital for observation after what seemed to be a rather innocuous play along the boards early in the second period. Speculation ranged from a back issue to a spleen problem.
Here’s hoping that, as long as it doesn’t put them in any danger, both Toews and Bergeron are healthy enough to play Game 6, and Game 7 if it gets that far.
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