At the end, Michael Rozsival was on crutches. Mikkel Boedker was limping like a man much older than 21. Martin Hanzal’s ribs ache and could need surgery, but never stopped playing.
You don’t play 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games without sustaining injuries that would normally cost you days, if not weeks, out of the lineup during the season. The Phoenix Coyotes are no different.
Boyd Gordon’s hand looked like it had a potholder on it. Mike Smith was spending his intermissions getting up close and personal with bathroom toilet in Nashville. At one point in the playoffs, Rusty Klesla’s face — hit four times by various pucks and the blunt end of sticks — looked like a typographical map. Radim Vrbata had his shoulder smashed into the boards on the first shift against Chicago and wasn’t right until conference final against the Kings.
You didn’t hear about many of these injuries — and there are many, many more. In the NHL Playoffs, injuries are guarded like military launch codes. Questions are met with smiles and head shakes. But with the playoffs over in Phoenix, the shroud of secrecy finally lifted a bit as the players cleaned out their lockers and made plans to head home.
But for many, the trip home includes doctor appointments, rehab schedules and plenty of ice.
“It’s so hard to do and it’s so much fun at the same time. It’s hard to explain to anyone else,” said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who suffered a hip pointer in the first series against Chicago and added upper and lower body injuries as the postseason wore on. “I could go through every player in this room, guys taking (painkiller) shots to keep going. You wish you could tell all the stories and you want to. But even now some of the guys don’t want you to. The only thing they want is for the guys in the room to acknowledge that what they were doing wasn’t easy but I’m gonna keep doing it.
“You remember that stuff as much as the big goals and all the other stuff — the sacrifices guys made to just be out there.”
Adrian Aucoin waited 18 years to get past the first round of the playoffs. But he suffered a groin tear in the second round-clinching win over Nashville. After a week between series and a week watching his team fall behind 0-3 to the Kings, Aucoin couldn’t watch anymore. So he played, for two periods, in Game 4 — before injuring his groin on the other side.
He was done for the series, and possibly the rest of the playoffs. That pain was the worst of all.
“In a perfect world, I would have waited a few more games (before playing in Game 4). I was out of time. I did it and I’m happy I did,” Aucoin said. “It was important to me personally that I played in the third round. Getting this far and then not being able to play ... it’s about as frustrating a thing as I’ve had in my career.”
Gordon put his body in the path of dozens of shots during the playoffs – along with guys like Rozsival, Derek Morris, Taylor Pyatt and Daymond Langkow — but when he blocked a screaming shot with his hand in the Nashville series, the rest of the playoffs were a struggle.
“I don’t know if anyone saw his hand after that, but you couldn’t believe that a guy could come back and play,” Doan said.
Gordon not only came back and played, he won 59 percent of his faceoffs in the playoffs — he and teammate Antoine Vermette were the best tandem in the league. In the final game against the Kings, with the season in the line, Gordon won 18 of 21 draws.
Lauri Korpikoski suffered a concussion in the first round against Chicago. He came returned to the lineup and while trying to block a shot against the Kings, he slid into the boards knee-first and suffered a dislocation of the knee cap. He didn’t miss the next game.
“As a friend and as a fan of our guys, it awesome to be the in the room and see how those guys competed and just kept going,” Doan said. “Guys don’t want the attention for battling through stuff, but it’s the things teammates remember more than the wins and the goals.
“We’re not alone. Every team, if you’re good and lucky enough to keep going in the playoffs, has that story. I think that’s the best part of hockey: That you all go through it together.”
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.