By Steve Keating
BOSTON (Reuters) - With the finish line of a punishing two month playoff marathon in sight, the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks could end the Stanley Cup Finals without their top players as the grind of four best-of-seven series takes its toll.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, the leading scorer in the Finals, never saw the ice during the third period of Chicago's Game Five 3-1 win over Boston on Saturday after going down with injuries.
The Blackhawks walked away from the wreckage with a 3-2 series lead and can clinch the Stanley Cup with a Game Six win in Boston on Monday but they may have to finish the job without Toews, their leader and talisman.
Both coaches remained tight-lipped on Sunday about the status of their players, leaving the rumor mill to speculate on the nature of the injuries.
In the National Hockey League teams treat injuries like state secrets and they fall into two categories, upper or lower body.
Toews's injury appears to be concussion related, while Bergeron could be suffering an internal problem.
Boston coach Claude Julien was vague, describing Bergeron's injury as a "body injury", adding that their leading faceoff man's status was "day-to-day".
Bergeron, who has scored four goals in the Finals, exited early in the second period on Saturday and was later taken by ambulance to hospital.
He was discharged Saturday evening following an examination and returned with the team to Boston on Sunday morning.
"What does 'day-to-day' mean? I don't know if he'll skate tomorrow. He may and that's what 'day-to-day' is," explained Julien, tap-dancing around the media's questions.
"Again, I'm trying to be as clear as I can here."
Toews, who assisted on Blackhawks first two goals, did not play after taking a thundering hit from Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk as he cut across the Boston goalmouth but remained on the bench until the final buzzer.
The NHL said on Sunday that Boychuk would not face a hearing or additional discipline for the hit.
"Johnny is doing much better today. He's progressed. We're optimistic that he might be playing tomorrow night," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
"Nothing has changed. Nothing is different. We'll keep an eye on him, and we'll go from there."
The accumulative wear-and-tear from four bone-jarring series is evident in both locker rooms with black eyes, bruises, stitched lips and weary looks on almost every face.
Nathan Horton, who plays on Bruins top line, left the ice during the first overtime period of Boston's 4-3 Game One loss in Chicago but has grimly soldiered on despite what is believed to be a separated shoulder.
Marian Hossa, one the Blackhawks top point producers in the playoffs, is also battling an undisclosed injury that has kept the forward out of practice.
As it is every year, the Stanley Cup has turned into the survival of the fittest and with just a maximum of two games to go both teams are digging deep into their reserves.
"Everybody deals with some type of an issue," said Quenneville.
"Everybody has got an ice bag here or there or everywhere. But they'll do whatever it takes to get out on the ice.
"I think that being aware of what they're capable of and trying to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency based on what they can give you."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)