Jonathan Toews isn’t scared. At least he wasn’t before Johnny Boychuk laid a hit on him that either he will remember for the rest of his life – or won’t remember at all.
With 8:13 left in the second period of game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals and the Chicago Blackhawks leading by a score of 2-0 and skating circles around the Boston Bruins, Boychuk saw the Blackhawks’ captain swooping in from the right wing and assumed, rightly so, that Toews was going to set up shop with the puck in front of goalie Tukkaa Rask…
…a place where Toews and his teammates had roamed freely in game 4 and now well into game 5, and Boychuk had seen enough.
Boychuk charged from the left circle, the Bruins’ defenseman and Toews converging in the slot at precisely the same time, Boychuk going high – the resulting collision causing Chicago’s forward to go horizontal before being slammed to the ice.
Toews got up and skated to the bench, done for the evening – but the Bruins were just getting started.
If there is to be a turning point in this series, that was it. That has to be it, because if it isn’t the Bruins are toast.
Five days ago the Boston Bruins were heading into game 4, leading the best of seven Cup series 2-1 after dominating the Blackhawks, stealing their home ice advantage and pounding them into submission – then Chicago turned the tables in risky fashion by trying to press their pace on the Bruins, employing a neutral zone trap to force turnovers and to generate instant offense.
Risky because the potential was present for odd man rushes the other direction should the Bruins be able to break the trap – but that happened precious little for Boston and the series returned to Chicago tied at 2-2, but not before Boychuk rallied the Bruins to force overtime, his snipe from the high point tying the game at five…
…in celebration immediately following the goal the burly defenseman turning to Blackhawks’ center Dave Bolland pointing to the ice with emphasis and yelling “This is our ice!”…
…which failed to result in the win, but it seemed that the Bruins were in prime position to rebound and take the series back from Chicago - but when they sleepwalked through the first 30 minutes in game five and spotted the Hawks a couple of goals, Boychuk felt that he needed to do something more to wake the team up.
So he absolutely leveled Toews, who did the George Carlin cat-running-into-the-sliding-glass-door bit, skating smoothly to the bench before letting on how badly he was injured.
It was a vicious hit, one that drew the ire of the fans and the attention of the league discipline czar – but much to the chagrin of the fans, the league office didn’t find sufficient cause to suspend Boychuk though replays show that his forearm made contact with the head of the defenseless Toews…
…a response clearly measured by intent rather than result – because as clear an angle that the strapping Boychuk had on the reigning Selke trophy winner, had he really been aiming for Toews’ head the outcome would have been far more serious for both players, physically for one and punitively for the other.
Regardless, the hit seemed to act as a splash of cold water on the sleepwalking Bruins, who suddenly turned on the afterburners and dominated the second half of the game, though the game went to the Blackhawks as the Bruins couldn’t find the net despite generating many scoring opportunities with their renewed vigor.
What that means coming into Monday night’s do-or-die game 6 for Boston could be everything or nothing for the Jekyyl and Hyde Bruins, though it had the same feel to it as Milan Lucic’s goal in the Miracle at the Garden against the Maple Leafs in the quarterfinals, when his violent forechecking and infectious energy rallied the Bruins to an improbable overtime victory.
And that’s what the Bruins are looking at now – play the Bruins’ brand of hockey to win, or go home.
A Boston win at TD Garden would set up a winner-take-all, potential donnybrook in Chicago on Wednesday, while a loss would find the Blackhawks accepting professional hockey’s holy grail on the spoked B logo in front of the home folks, which is never acceptable…
If the Bruins needed any more motivation than that, they wouldn’t even be here right now.