CHICAGO - In the final frantic minutes, with the Boston Bruins buzzing around the Chicago Blackhawks net, there were just two things missing from having a fourth game in the Stanley Cup final go to overtime Saturday.
1) A tying goal. The opportunity was there for the Bruins, the best chance by Jaromir Jagr, who remains oh-for-May-and-June in the post-season.
2) The one person who usually scores late for Boston, the indispensable and irreplaceable Patrice Bergeron.
Another body was missing: Jonathan Toews was not on the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks. Neither he nor Bergon played a second of the third period due to injury.
Has this ever happened before? The best centre on one team and the best centre on the other not able to finish a game in the Stanley Cup final?
They may also be unable to play in Game 6, but we might not know for certain until puck drop Monday.
This back-and-forth Stanley Cup final will push on but the whether Toews and Bergeron can remains in doubt.
If Bergeron canít come back, you can bet the Bruins Ė trailing 3-2 in the series after Saturdayís 3-1 loss Ė are done.
If Toews canít come back, it changes the equation completely for the Blackhawks.
Chicago dominated the first half of Game 5: Toews played that half of the game. The Hawks were almost beaten in the third, even with Boston missing Bergeron, as they tried to find a way to fill ice time for Toews.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville called this series ďrelentlessĒ hockey. And now we have a hockey war of attrition. Last man, last team, standing wins.
At various times Saturday night, Bergeron left the ice. He tried to return twice in the second period before deciding he couldnít and ended the night in a hospital.
After Toews had taken a crushing hit from Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk in the second period, he was on the Chicago bench in the third. He looked to his coach, asked to play, but the coachís answer was an emphatic no.
It was so desperate a time for the Bruins that they replaced Bergeron with rookie Carl Soderberg, who happened to be playing his first game of the playoffs. Ever.
The series, in Quennevilleís words, has been ďa war.Ē And he doesnít like to make that kind of analogy. But he knows who is hurt, who isnít playing, who is competing injured. ďItís been a battle, every shift and every game, youíre fighting for every kind of shift around the ice. Itís a face paced game. Itís been an amazing series and relentless hockey and I commend the guys on both teams for leaving it out on the ice.Ē
I was trying to remember if this has happened before, if there has ever been a time in a series this deep, this detailed, this terrific, where the most complete players on either team couldnít continue.
Peter Forsberg had missed some Stanley Cup play before, but that was one team, not two. Wayne Gretzky went head-to-head with Bryan Trottier twice and both survived. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin went against Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and they got to the end.
Now, for this series, we donít know. The teamís arenít sure. There is either one game to play or two and Boston coach Claude Julien said he had no update on Bergeronís status. He canít be concerned about whether his centre can play Monday night until he gets a status update.
The attrition of a short season, followed by a frenetic playoff scheduled, has affected the players, David Krejci said.
ďItís not just this series,Ē said the Boston centre. ď Itís also the series before. Guys are banged up. Itís been a short season. 48 games and basically no break. We basically play ever other day. And at the end of the season, itís catching up to you. You can see guys struggling a little bit.
ďYou just try to leave everytthing on the ice. There is nothing to save energy for. We played a decent third period we just couldnít get it done. Now we have to keep going.Ē
The Bruins have to keep going, likely without Bergeron, getting little from Brad Marchand, with Nathan Horton clearly playing injured and ineffective, with Gregory Campbell gone, with Wade Redden out and with a healthy scratch for the first 20 playoff games centring what is normally the first line.
The challenge for Boston is immense.
But if Toews canít go, the challenge for Chicago will be similar. The difference being the Blackhawks have the red-hot Patrick Kane. He can change games in a matter of seconds as he did Saturday night. He doesnít need a lot of time. And his talent is extreme.
But the extreme talents of Bergeron and Toews, the giants of this series, are in doubt.
Chicago has a one-game lead. At this stage, that appears to be insurmountable.