Stanley Cup Finals: Injuries to Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews Could Tilt Series

Stanley Cup Finals Toews Bergeron Injuries
Jun 15 2013 Chicago IL USA Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews 19 collides with Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference rear as center Patrice Bergeron 37 looks on during the third period in game two of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final at the United Center Rob Grabowski USA TODAY Sports

As the Blackhawks held off the Bruins in the third period of Saturday night’s Game 5, two familiar faces were absent in crunch time. The last two Frank J. Selke Trophy winners, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews combined for a grand total of zero minutes in the final frame of the 3-1 Chicago victory, and if either of the star centers remains out of action it could decide the series.

The two centers have plenty in common and are widely regarded as the best two-way forwards in the game. Both players are remarkable three-zone battlers, known for their hard work, faceoff excellence and leadership. Though often praised for their defensive skills, both Toews and Bergeron can take over a game offensively as well.

The more attack-minded of the two, Toews posted 48 points in 47 regular seasons games. Bergeron only managed 32 points in the lockout-shortened season, but he has been superb in the postseason. Though he has hardly been the most prolific scorer in these playoffs, he has scored some off the biggest goals.

Bergeron netted the equalizer and the game-winner in Boston’s miracle Game 7 comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 13, and he also scored the double OT winner in Boston’s Game 3 victory over Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Finals. The 27-year old leads the Bruins with four goals against the Blackhawks.

Though Jonathan Toews has struggled for long stretches this postseason, he is a proven championship performer. Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010 as he led the Blackhawks to the title with 29 points. Captain Serious may have just two goals in these playoffs, but he was heating up. He scored in Game 4 and assisted on both of Patrick Kane‘s goals in Game 5 before leaving the action.

Toews suffered an upper-body injury likely caused by a questionable Johnny Boychuk hit late in the second period (video). According to TSN, the league opted not to discipline Boychuk for the hit that some believe targeted Toews’ head. Toews remained on the bench until the final horn sounded, which suggests that he could have played if necessary. However, his presence certainly seemed necessary. With the Bruins threatening to tie the game for much of the period, an elite defensive center would have been a key asset.

Patrice Bergeron’s injury remains shrouded in mystery. The Bruins alternate captain was not the victim of a crushing blow from a Blackhawk, rather he simply skated awkwardly to the bench after fishing for the puck along the end boards late in the first period. He returned to the ice soon after but for mere seconds. Reports surfaced in the third period that Bergeron had been transported via ambulance to an area hospital, and the speculation began.

Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos suggested that Bergeron may have suffered a spleen injury, which would likely have required surgery and ended his season. Bergeron’s spleen no longer seems to be the issue, considering that the center left the hospital and returned to Boston with his teammates this morning according to the Bruins. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported this morning that though the injury was still undisclosed, nobody had correctly guessed the afflicted area.

So questions will continue to abound regarding Bergeron’s condition. It seems unlikely that he will be on the ice in Boston for Game 6, but with so little information available it can’t be ruled out. The Bruins will hope desperately to have him back, especially considering that he scored twice in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals in Vancouver. If Boston manages to earn a Game 7 on the road this time around, they’ll be hard pressed to win at the United Center without him.

So far in this historically tight finals series, the victories have gone to the team that best controls the tempo of the game, and Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron are two of the best in the business when it comes to managing the pace of a game. Both players ability to win key faceoffs, command breakouts and methodically move the puck on the forecheck could be severely missed.

Two of the most valuable players in the NHL, both top-six centers are impossible to replace. The Bruins tried to fill the void on Saturday by placing NHL-newcomer Carl Soderberg between Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr. The offensively gifted Soderberg played well but with just seven career NHL games under his belt, including just one postseason appearance, he is hardly a reliable option. Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin are all options. It will be tough to move Kelly or Seguin up considering how well both have played lined up with each other and Daniel Paille. Peverley is more comfortable on the wing but has experience at center, so he could be the man for the job despite a poor playoff campaign.

Michal Handzus, Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik will likely contend for Toews’ minutes if he is unavailable. The fluid Blackhawks’ line combos are often unpredictable, so the hockey world could be surprised by Joel Quenneville‘s final decision.

Though nothing scares a fan-base like an injury to a star player, it must be remembered that teams can often rally in the name of a fallen teammate to shock the world. The Bruins themselves overcame the loss of Nathan Horton in the 2011 finals to win in seven games. Though Horton has been excellent this spring, his value to the Bruins simply cannot match Bergeron’s. Perhaps the winger who missed the latter half of Boston’s last finals trip will be the one to step up this time around.

In a series full of surprise heroes including Andrew Shaw and Daniel Paille, even more pressure will now fall on depth players as their performances will have an amplified effect on the result. So the spotlight could be wide open in Game 6, and if necessary in Game 7. We will simply have to wait to see who fills it.

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