Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was thumped hard by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk in the second period of Game 5, forcing him to sit out the third period. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said he was encouraged about the center’s progress and availability for Monday night’s Game 6 at TD Garden.
“[He’s] doing much better today,” Quenneville said Sunday. “He’s progressed. We’re optimistic that he might be playing tomorrow night.”
Toews, who was on the ice for just 12:56 Saturday night, drove into the slot past Brad Marchand and Torey Krug before Boychuk flattened him.
Though it appeared Boychuk’s forearm made contact with Toews’s head, the NHL did not discipline the Boston blue liner.
“There wasn’t a penalty on the play, and it was one of those hits in a tight area in front of the net,” Quenneville said, shrugging off indication of a dirty hit. “You can be vulnerable in that area, a big hit. The first part of contact you could talk about, but I’m not going to go there.”
While Toews tussled in the corner with the 6-foot-9-inch Zdeno Chara in Game 5, Chicago forward Patrick Sharp had his fair share of run-ins with Boychuk, but he didn’t take offense to the defenseman’s heavy style.
“I seemed to get matched up against Boychuk quite a bit in this series,” Sharp said. “He’s taken some runs at me. I can’t really complain how he’s hit me. He plays the game hard, he’s pretty honest. I think every series we’ve been a part of, things get a little bit more intense as they go along, a lot more trash-talking, physical play on both sides.”
Since Quenneville made the decision before Game 4 to reunite his top line of Toews with wingers Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell, Chicago’s offense has flourished.
In the 6-5 overtime victory in Game 4, Bickell collected two assists, including one on defenseman Brent Seabrook’s game-winner. Kane and Toews scored their first goals of the series in Game 4.
Before Toews exited Game 5, he assisted on both of Kane’s goals, which propelled the Blackhawks to a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-1 victory to pull within one game of the Stanley Cup championship.
Although Quenneville is optimistic Toews will play in Game 6, defenseman Johnny Oduya stressed the importance of focusing only on who is available to play.
“He’s our leader. When he’s full speed he gives everything he’s got every game,” Oduya said. “That’s something that is tough to replace. But I think we have to focus on who’s in the room, who’s on the ice, what we want to do as a team.’’
Just as the Blackhawks stormed on without their dynamic center in Game 5, the Bruins played most of the second and third periods without Patrice Bergeron. On Sunday, Bruins coach Claude Julien said Bergeron was day-to-day with what he termed a “body” injury.
Toews, who beat out Bergeron for the 2013 Selke Trophy (top defensive forward), and the Boston center are both highly regarded for their play in all three zones, and their ability to strain opposing offenses with their aggressive forecheck.
“Both great players,” said Sharp. “I think any coach in the league, any player in the league, would like to have those guys on their team. They take pride in taking faceoffs, playing well away from the puck, making their linemates better, both big parts of the locker room.
“I can’t speak for what Boston is dealing with, with Bergeron. I know I don’t need to say much about Jonathan. I think everyone knows what we think of him in our locker room.”
Just as Oduya addressed Toews’s injury, he made it clear the team will take an even-keeled approach into Game 6, whether or not Bergeron plays.
“Well, he’s a good player, obviously,” Oduya said. “Someone is going to come in and someone is going to fill that spot. It’s going to be a good player. We’re going to keep doing kind of the same thing, focus on our game and what we’re doing and not look too much who’s on the other side, who’s in or out. And that goes for our team and for their team, as well.”