When the Stanley Cup Finals begin Wednesday night in Chicago, it will be a match-up of two of the premiere defensive forwards the NHL has to offer.
Both Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron are finalists for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s top defensive forward. Along with Pavel Datsyuk, Bergeron and Toews are unquestionably the league’s top defensive forwards, and their exploits have helped their respective teams reach the finals.
Toews had a huge regular season for the Chicago Blackhawks beyond his 55 points, which ranked 13th in the league. He finished third in the NHL with a plus-28 rating, and further emphasized his defensive prowess with 56 takeaways, which tied for the league lead with Datsyuk.
Toews has also become one of the top face-off men in the league, as his 59.9 percent face-off efficiency was good for second in the league. His 559 face-offs won was the third highest total in the league this season.
He has struggled in all areas in the postseason, and he hasn’t been able to score or win face-offs at the same clip he did during the regular season. He has a chance to atone for his lackluster postseason with a strong finals performance.
Bergeron, meanwhile, has had quite an impact in the playoffs for the Boston Bruins after another strong regular season.
He netted the game-winner in overtime in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, and also potted the double-overtime goal in a Game 3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
During the regular season, Bergeron emerged as the NHL’s top face-off man. He was the only player in the league to win over 60 percent of his face-offs taken, finishing with a ridiculous 62.1 percent efficiency in the face-off circle.
Bergeron didn’t post the same stats as Toews in other areas, but he still put up extremely respectable numbers.
Bergeron’s plus-24 rating was good for sixth in the league and led the Bruins. He wasn’t as adept at taking the puck away as Toews, but his 23 takeaways tied for the third most on the Bruins.
Defensively, Bergeron has been a key piece in slowing down the likes of Rick Nash, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, as each of the aforementioned stars had extremely unproductive series playing opposite him. Bergeron is the reigning Selke Trophy winner, and he has become regarded as one of the top two-way forwards in the league.
Toews and Bergeron were teammates when Canada won the gold medal in the 2010 Olympics, as they were two of the best defensive forwards in the entire tournament. Each player enters the finals with a plus-four rating, as the two players’ styles of play mirror each other.
It remains to be seen if Bergeron and Toews will play head-to-head, although it seems Joel Quennville should keep Toews away from Bergeron while he controls the match-ups when the games are in Chicago.
Toews played his worst hockey of the postseason when he was shadowed by Henrik Zetterberg, another top two-way forward in the NHL. Once Quennville got Toews away from Zetterberg, however, he started to resemble the consummate professional that he is.
Thus, with the finals opening up in Chicago, Quennville would be wise to keep Toews away from Bergeron. There will be other defensive-minded forwards in the series as well with the likes of Marian Hossa, Daniel Paille and Brad Marchand. However, all eyes will be on Toews and Bergeron, as they have become the litmus test for two-way forwards.
No matter which team wins, it will be the second championship for either Bergeron or Toews. The only way the season could get possibly better would be to cap off a championship season with a Selke Trophy.
One thing is for sure; two of the top three defensive forwards will be on display during the finals, and the winner of the Toews-Bergeron match-up may determine who ends up hoisting the Cup.
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