They say the NHL playoffs are a battle of attrition, and the Blackhawks and Bruins, the last two teams remaining, remained remarkably unscathed until the finals. But a close, hard-fought series that's already required 20 periods over five games is taking its toll, and each team may or may not be without its best all-around player for tonight's Game 6.
Jonathan Toews nudged out Patrice Bergeron for the Selke Trophy by just 10 points, despite Bergeron winning more first-place votes. Each is the consummate two-way player, and each embodies a defensive-minded system that's gotten their teams to where they are. It'd be a damn shame if either missed tonight, or potentially Wednesday. But with the NHL being what it is, we're not going to know until just before puckdrop.
Toews got wrecked by Johnny Boychuk midway through Game 5. It was a big hit, but a clean one, and Toews's head slammed into the ice. He played four more shifts, then watched the third period from the bench. Joel Quenneville would call it only an "upper-body" injury. It's not too hard to guess what might be troubling Toews, who returned too soon from a concussion for last year's playoffs and wasn't close to the same player.
The Blackhawks didn't practice yesterday, but they sound upbeat. "Johnny is doing much better," Quenneville said. "He's progressing. We're optimistic he'll play." Of course, it could be the usual subterfuge—Marian Hossa was a Game 3 scratch, shocking to everyone but the Blackhawks, who admitted that they'd known all day he might not play.
The odds of Patrice Bergeron lacing up tonight seem a little longer. Claude Julien has offered zero information on the center, who exited Game 5 without suffering an obvious hit, and was taken to a hospital before being discharged Sunday morning. What's he got? A "body injury," according to Julien. There was a report that he might have suffered a spleen injury, then another report which said he did not rupture his spleen—pointedly, that doesn't rule out any non-rupture spleen injuries.
Julien, who said he was "encouraged" by Bergeron's progress, joked with reporters while avoiding a straight answer.
“He looked really good today. He had a nice suit on, very dashing...Well, again, what does day to day mean?. I don't know if he'll skate tomorrow—he may. And that's what day to day is."
We're not going to find out if Toews or Bergeron can play until they either do or don't, and we're not going to learn the extent and nature of their injuries until this season ends. (It's slightly silly—opposing players don't need an MRI to target Toews up high or Bergeron's midsection.) But in a series that's defied a consistent storyline or any sort of continuity, the final game or so could come down to which team can best adapt to being without its most valuable player.