As we wait for the puck to drop tonight for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Chicago Blackhawks are right on the cusp of their second championship in four seasons. While it's been a great series so far, and these are two great teams, I have a feeling it may be pretty tough for the Boston Bruins to keep this thing going to a Game 7 on Wednesday.
Here are a few of my thoughts as we get ready for Game 6 tonight:
Bergeron's absence changes the game: Bruins coach Claude Julien said Monday he was "confident" Patrice Bergeron would play Monday night, and he had better hope so, because if Bergeron is out of the lineup, I just think it'll be too big a loss to overcome. When you look at what's happening here, the Bruins have lost two games in a row, they're not playing great, Zdeno Chara is struggling, Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr aren't doing much right now. And then you look at the other side of the coin. Chicago is starting to play the best hockey it's played all series, Patrick Kane is on fire, Bryan Bickell is playing well, the Sharp line is playing well, defensively they look rock solid and Corey Crawford has been much maligned, but all the guy does is win and now he's one win away from the Stanley Cup. I just think mentally and physically, the loss of Bergeron would be too much to overcome.
I'm not surprised Toews is playing tonight: Chicago is playing so well right now, it's relatively healthy and its such a deep team to begin with, that I think the Blackhawks could have overcome the loss of Toews much easier than Boston could overcome the loss of Bergeron, but it looks like they won't have to. Toews told reporters at the morning skate Monday that he was fine and would be in the lineup, and if you were around the team after Game 5, this shouldn't be a shock. Toews was walking around fine and smiling after the game. The Blackhawks weren't hiding him, and they weren't being careful with what he said. To me those signs all pointed to him being good enough to play.
Game 4 changed this series: Game 4 Wednesday night was wild and bizarre, and without a doubt, that was the game where everything changed. Chicago put Kane and Toews back together for the first time and they had a strong game, Crawford gave up five goals and still won, Chara was on the ice for five goals against, so many strange things happened in that game that completely changed the momentum. And of course, if Boston won that game, this series would be over. This was the Bruins' chance to win, and I think they know it. They couldn't put the Blackhawks on the brink last Wednesday and now Chicago is in the driver's seat.
The Conn Smythe could be a surprise: If the Blackhawks win tonight -- or on Wednesday -- you're going to have to pick a Conn Smythe winner, but for the first time in a long time, there's no obvious choice as the series reaches its final game. With the two goals he scored Saturday night, Kane probably put himself in that discussion, but I think if you're looking for someone you need to look at Crawford. What does this guy have to do to get the attention he deserves? He beats Jimmy Howard, he beats Jonathan Quick, he beats Tuukka Rask and you don't give him the Conn Smythe? I think it's going to be hard not to look at what Crawford's done.
Whether or not Bergeron plays, I think it ends tonight: Bergeron may not play, and if he does he still won't be 100 percent. Boston is on its heels. The Bruins have a lot of reasons to feel sorry for themselves with two losses in a row, their defense has really collapsed, and Chicago coach Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks know you can't let it get to a Game 7 after seeing Boston win Game 7 in Vancouver two years ago. Those Canucks knew they had a Game 7 to fall back on, and then by the time they got there the momentum was all gone. The Blackhawks know Game 6 is the game they need to win, and they're playing too well right now to make me think they won't do it. Everything is pointing toward a Chicago victory.