By Sarah Kwak
BOSTON — On the morning of Game 6, with the Bruins on the brink, center Patrice Bergeron was the only player missing from the ice at TD Garden. Having left Game 5 with an undisclosed injury that forced him to report to a local Chicago hospital for observation on Saturday, Bergeron seemed like an unlikely participant for Monday’s game. This morning, however, Bruins coach Claude Julien stated otherwise.
“Patrice will dress for warm-up tonight, and I’m feeling confident that he’ll play,” the coach told reporters, adding that forwards Jay Pandolfo and Jordan Caron will also warm up in case Bergeron’s status changes.
Meanwhile, just as Julien announced that he believed his best center would return, the Blackhawks’ top center, Jonathan Toews, took the ice for the morning skate. After benching his captain for the third period of Game 5, coach Joel Quenneville confirmed on Monday that Toews was “100 percent ready to go” for Game 6.
While Bergeron ended up in the hospital, Toews had been held back by an apparent injury he presumably suffered when he took a hard and perilously high hit from Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk in the second period. The hit wasn’t penalized, and though his elbows plowed into Toews’s head, Boychuk avoided suspension.
Bergeron’s ailment remained much more mysterious even on Monday morning, with many believing it to be an internal injury. Speculation ranged from his spleen to his back. But Julien even said in French that Bergeron would play. At this time of the year, with Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and potentially the last match of the 2013 season on tap, no one should expect anything less. It would take some extraordinary circumstances to keep these players from taking the ice.
“[Bergeron’s] been the glue for this hockey team for a lot of years,” Bruins center Chris Kelly said. “He’s one of our best players. … If he doesn’t play, [it’d] be a full team effort to fill his skates.”
The Blackhawks would be in dire straits without Toews, who hasn’t necessarily been an offensive force in these playoffs, but is by far Chicago’s best player at center. Yet, neither team is focusing on those aspects of Game 6.
“I think you worry about things you can control,” Kelly said. “We can’t control [Bergeron’s status]. All we can control is that each guy goes out here and works hard and [we] play our best.”
Down 3-2 in the series, the Bruins have little choice in the matter. They’ve dropped the last two games and watched Chicago’s top line begin to produce offensively, a dangerous prospect for tonight and possibly beyond. So without their best game and a win on Monday night, the Bruins will have to watch the Blackhawks lift the Stanley Cup on the TD Garden ice.
In order to deny that event, Boston will try to regain its physical advantage. Though they’ve outhit the Blackhawks, 237-176, in the series, the Bruins believe they can be more effective with their hits and create space with their bodies.
“I think a lot of times [the Blackhawks] were curling away from hits sometimes in their zone,” Bruins winger Tyler Seguin said. “They’ve kind of figured us out. And I’ve been guilty of it as well, just curling by. And I think we need to finish those [checks] tonight.”
It’s interesting to consider that each team has been in this particular situation before and can draw on the experience. Chicago remembers going into Philadelphia in 2010 with a mission and coming out with a Cup; Boston recalls defending home ice and pushing a seventh game a year later against Vancouver.
However, that past will predict the future for only one team tonight.