BOSTON – The attrition of players from injury in the Stanley Cup Final has always been a concern throughout the years. The grind of a long season followed by the intensity of the playoffs makes for a grueling path to the Cup.
On Saturday, the Bruins lost Patrice Bergeron to injury and the Chicago Blackhawks lost Jonathan Toews. Neither player skated much after the initial minutes of the second period.
For the Bruins, the loss was felt at the face-off dot and the Hawks it was loss of a leader.
This morning’s press conferences with the head coaches revealed that Toews would be back to the ice this evening.
Head coach Joel Quenneville confirmed that Toews was “100% ready to go”.
He was further asked if he was happy to see Toews back on the ice.
“Well, it’s good to know that he was able to play and practice this morning, as well. He felt fine yesterday, as well, so we were very encouraged heading into today’s day. It’s good to know that he’s ready to go,” Quenneville said.
In the Bruins pre-game presser head coach Claude Julien was asked about the return of Bergeron to the ice. Bergeron did practice in this morning’s skate.
“Well, I know (Jay) Pandolfo is going to be in the warm-up tonight for sure, so is Caron, so we’re going to have a few guys out there. And Bergeron is going to be out there, as well. If Bergeron can’t go, then I have got some decisions to make. Again, there’s a little bit more in the thought process than just picking a guy. I need to make decisions based on what the needs will be for tonight’s game.” Julien said.
With Bergeron a game-time decision, the Bruins are faced with a host of challenges, something that Julien sees as a positive for himself and the club.
“I guess they enjoy that challenge. Just when everybody thinks they’re down, they love that challenge of proving people wrong. I mean, we’ve been knocked down so many times for all different reasons, but we’re very capable of bouncing back. We know we can,” Julien said of his club. “At the same time we’ve got a lot of confidence in each other in that dressing room, from the coaching staff down to the players. There’s a lot of trust and confidence, and that’s what makes a good team and a good group. I think, as I mentioned earlier, I like the excitement of our team right now. They’re excited to play tonight. They’re not afraid of it. They’re excited for the challenge.”
Nathan Horton echoed at least the sentiment expressed by Julien in his assessment of his team’s chances and objectives in Game 6.
“Not give them too much but I think the big picture is just win two games. We concentrate on one at a time. Like everyone says, we are at home,” Horton said. “It’s obviously a must-win and we all know that the fourth game is the hardest to get and we are going to make it as hard as we can. We are not done yet. Like I said, only two more games. We’ve got to win two games. That’s what we are looking at.”
For Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, the issue will be getting rid of the nerves evident in Game 5.
“A little bit, yeah. I thought right off the bat we looked a little nervous. We didn’t make plays. We didn’t make passes. It didn’t cost us right away but after the first minute or two we kind of settled in. Both teams had chances. It wasn’t as bad as it has been in previous games,” Rask said describing Game 5.
For Quenneville, despite the pressure and anxiety of the closeness of the Cup, he finds it fun to be in the process.
“Yeah, I think it’s a fun time. The process of getting this far, it makes it all worthwhile along the way. There’s some highs, there’s some lows, there’s some excitement, there’s some great days, there’s some tough days, and the one thing you don’t want to get ahead of yourself in the process,” Quenneville said
“We’ve got some guys that have been there. They know the experience. They know the thinking going into a day like today and going into tomorrow’s day, as well. We’ll visit with that as a team. There’s some guys that they’re so excited. You dream about this moment. But at the same time we’ve got to keep everything in perspective. We want to make sure that we’re confident playing the game and putting yourself in the now position as opposed to ahead of yourself,” Quenneville added.
For many of the Blackhawks players, this year’s Final is similar to the championship club in 2010 when they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers.
“You know, it’s a similar feeling, especially having the series tied 2-2, taking Game 5 at home and coming on the road for Game 6,” Patrick Kane said on the off day this week. “You’ve got to be careful, you’ve seen a couple years ago Boston was down 3-2, they won at home and then won Game 7 in Vancouver. We know this team is capable of coming back.
“For us I know it’s a big game, but you want to play it like it’s any other game, play the way we have all season, and try to pull one out here on the road.”
Similar or not both teams have an objective in Game 6. Win and go home to celebrate or win and continue one more game.
It is warm and muggy in Boston and the ice may be sloppy tonight for Game 6. That will have an impact on each side and their game plan.