CHICAGO – Toward the end of their title defence, the Los Angeles Kings were spending a lot of time on the training table. Captain Dustin Brown was playing with a torn ligament in his left knee, just one of several injuries that became public knowledge after the Stanley Cup champs were eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals.
Gregory Campbell broke his right leg while helping the Boston Bruins kill off a power play in the third round of the playoffs, and the centre stayed on the ice until his team was able to clear the puck out of the zone.
It’s part of the routine for the NHL playoffs, a grueling stretch when players keep going through all sorts of injuries that seem to lead to time off in several other sports.
“If you make it this far and you don’t have any injuries or anything wrong with you, I’m sure you’re not really playing up to playoff hockey,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said Saturday.
That’s why it was clear Bruins forward Nathan Horton was in a considerable amount of pain when he skated off during a power play in the first of three overtimes in Boston’s 4-3 loss in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals at Chicago on Wednesday night. For any player to leave during such an important moment, it had to be something where he felt he was hurting the team by remaining on the ice.
When it comes to this time of the year, the general rule is find a way to keep playing.
“Nobody wants to be left out or pushed out of the lineup and when you look at the Stanley Cup and what it means to you, there’s no doubt you don’t want to be denied that opportunity,” said Boston coach Claude Julien, who was behind the bench when the Bruins won the title in 2011. “Players, like I said, are tough in this sport and they’ll play through a lot. There’s some on both teams right now and you’ll find out more when the series is over.”
Sure enough, Horton was back on the ice when Boston practiced on Friday and participated in the team’s morning skate on Saturday, declaring he was ready to go for Game 2. The quick return for the talented wing was an encouraging sign for the Bruins, who didn’t seem all that surprised he made it back so quickly from the unspecified upper-body injury.
“It’s a part of the playoffs. I mean every team goes through it and they have guys playing through pain,” said Milan Lucic, who plays on the same line as Horton. “I remember two years ago guys playing through pain as well and what not. Like I said, it’s a part of the playoffs and it goes to show guys will do anything to win.”
Lucic recalled playing the final part of the 2011 post-season with a broken toe.
“I know it doesn’t sound like much but you don’t realize how much you’re on your toe until you break it,” he said.
Brown injured his knee during his first shift of Los Angeles’ 2-1 loss to San Jose in Game 6 of the West semifinals. He scored a goal and played 18 minutes in that game against the Sharks, and then played 17 1/2 minutes while helping the Kings win Game 7 to advance.
The 28-year-old forward also played in every one of the five games in the conference finals against Chicago.
“My pain tolerance is pretty high,” Brown said after the Kings were eliminated. “I really wasn’t so much in pain, but the mobility was, moving was tough. I was good enough to play, so that’s the bottom line.”
Playing through injuries is a fine line to walk, especially when it comes to the Stanley Cup finals. Each of the Blackhawks and Bruins wants to help their team win the title, but they also don’t want to make a costly mistake while playing hurt when there’s another healthy player on the bench.
“I think that always comes down to the player and obviously the doctors and the training staff,” Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews said. “At a certain point, if a player can’t play, I think, in this locker room especially, we all trust each other that everyone’s giving it everything they got and if it’s too much, well, we understand that.”
Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith lost seven teeth when he was hit by a puck during the second period of Game 4 of the 2010 Western Conference finals. But he returned to the ice, and the Blackhawks completed the series sweep. Keith said at the time it was just teeth, and he went on to help his team win the Stanley Cup.
“If you can’t play, you can’t play. If you think you can play through it, you can,” Keith said before Game 2 against the Bruins. “There are certain injuries that you can’t play. I mean look at Campbell’s injury of Boston. How can you play through that? You can’t stand on your foot. There’s a difference.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap