9:34 AM CDT, June 24, 2013
If Jonathan Toews can’t play in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, then the Blackhawks can fill that hole with a quality No. 2 center in -- no, wait, Stan Bowman still hasn’t acquired one.
Better hope Toews can play, Hawks fans. Better hope he can overcome that hollow look he had on the bench through the third period of Game 5 after Boston’s Johnny Boychuk established new rules for legal decapitation.
The Hawks are “optimistic’’ their captain can get over the boards Monday night. The Hawks would say that even if it’s a lie, but either way, Toews was centering the hottest line on earth. He had combined with Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell for 10 points in the last two games -- two games the Hawks won, two games that turned around the series.
Without Toews, Marcus Kruger centered the top line to start the third period of Game 5. A guy who couldn’t play center on his usual fourth line was suddenly skating with the adults.
That pretty much answers the question, but I’m going to ask it anyway:
What do the Hawks have behind Toews? More to the point, what would they have in place of Toews?
Waiting. Wait. Ing.
Michael Handzus? Didn’t we already see how much he slowed down Kane? As soon as Kane got away from the 87-year-old Handzus, he went nuts on Toews’ wing. See Kane’s hat trick to close the Western Conference finals for details.
Dave Bolland? The Hawks tried him as the No. 2 center this year and he was eventually dropped to the third line or even the fourth. He has played better in the finals games than he had in earlier rounds, looking healthier than before, but I can’t see that working offensively, and that top line needs to score, as we’ve seen.
Andrew Shaw? I love his energy and willingness to pinball around the corners and aggravate Zdeno Chara in front, but he can be such a defensive liability that David Krejci’s line might set records.
That’s another thing: the Krejci factor. Toews is the second-best faceoff man in the league. The Bruins lost the only center better. Patrice Bergeron went down in the same period as Toews. Bergeron went to the hospital in pain. Toews went to the Hawks’ bench with a blank stare. Neither took a shift the rest of Game 5.
But here’s the deal: Even if the Bruins lose Bergeron, they still have Krejci. Partly because of Toews, the good news is, Krejci has not scored in the finals. That’s also the bad news, if you’re one of those people who believes in someone being due.
Krejci leads the playoffs in points and assists and is tied with Bergeron and Kane with nine goals, one behind leader Patrick Sharp.
The Bruins can lose a top center, one who’s in the conversation for postseason trophies, and still have an ace to play. The Hawks don’t.
Well, actually they do, but the Hawks have refused to commit to putting Sharp at center and leaving him there the way they did when they won the 2010 Cup. Maybe Joel Quenneville will make that change for Game 6 if Toews’ health calls for it.
Light candles, people, if such acts are part of your belief system. But even if that rite isn’t one you observe, light one anyway to help your spelunking through the dark, foreboding search for a No. 2 Hawks center.
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