The Stanley Cup playoffs breed their own sort of toughness, a mix of fearlessness, desperation, and wanting to do everything humanly possible to push their club to a championship. There is already a "Conn Smythe Trophy" for the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup tournament. Maybe there should be one for the player who exhibits the most selfless disregard for his own health and well-being in the tournament in service to his team.* It's only Round 1, and there are stellar (if you want to call it that) candidates already...
Ian Laperriere, Philadelphia Flyers
From Mike Morreale's recap on NHL.com of the series-clinching Game 5 of the Flyers/Devils series...
"The Flyers were up 3-0 but in the midst of killing off yet another Devils power play when Laperriere decided to step in front of a slap shot by defenseman Paul Martin three minutes into the third period. By the time he realized he had slid too early, the puck slammed into his forehead at top speed, opening his face to the point where a trail of blood followed him as he skated blindly on the ice before getting medical attention. "When I grabbed (athletic trainer) Jimmy (McCrossin), I asked him if my eye was still there," Laperriere told reporters after taking between 60-70 stitches along his right eyebrow. "He said 'Yeah, there was just so much blood.'"
Reports are that he suffered a nondisplaced fracture of the orbital bone that will not need surgery, and he will be available to the Flyers in Round 2.
He will, however, wear a protective shield. Dont' think we can begrudge him that.
Eric Belanger, Washington Capitals
From Tarik El-Bashir's blog entry on Capitals Insider at the Washington Post...
"With about 7 minutes 30 seconds remaining in the first period of Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals forward Eric Belanger approached Canadiens defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron near center ice. Bergeron passed the puck away, and his stick came up and smacked Belanger in the face, causing him to double over in obvious pain. There was no penalty called, the sell-out crowd at Verizon Center responded with boos, Belanger made his way to the bench - and returned to play more than 10 minutes in the game. That brief synopsis, though, masks what actually happened. The sum total: Belanger lost "seven or eight" teeth, he said, had some exposed roots in his teeth trimmed in between periods -- serious dental work -- and he arrived Saturday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex with a fat lip that had been stitched back together. He believes he will be available for Game 6 Monday night in Montreal, but between now and then he faces several hours in a dentist's chair."I had a root canal on one tooth ten days ago and thought about not watching a hockey game.
These guys are not just in another league of toughness, they're on another planet. And they'll no doubt have a lot of company before this tournament is over.
* Who would you name it after? Mario Lemieux, for taking only two months off for treatment of Hodgkin's Disease, then going out an scoring a goal in his first game back -- a day on which he received his last radiation treatment? Bob Baun, for blocking a shot in the 1964 Stanley Cup finals, shattering his ankle in the process, limping off the ice for a few minutes, getting the ankle wrapped, then coming back on the ice for overtime and scoring the game-winning goal? Gordie Howe, for having his own "hat trick" named after him -- a goal, and assist, and a fight? There appear to be no shortage of candidates.