Toughing it out for the Cup
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It’s well known that NHL players are tough and play through all sorts of injuries. This is especially true during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This was on display in Game #1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, when Canadiens forward Brandon Gallagher left the ice a bloody mess.
And, don’t forget about Alec Martinez of the Vegas Golden Knights. With a broken foot for over one month, Martinez played more than 22 minutes per game and blocked a playoff-leading 72 shots. While it wasn’t enough to get his team into the next round, you have to be in awe at his toughness. And to think people miss work with just a cold...
Injury lore of ole: Playoff toughness — and toughness in general — is as old as the sport. One of the earliest and most dire examples was Chicago Blackhawks' goaltender Charlie Gardiner. He played through a chronic tonsil infection on to a Stanley Cup win in 1934, only to succumb to a resulting brain hemorrhage during the off-season. While Gardiner’s story should be better known, one of the most well-known stories of grit was that of Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenseman Bobby Baun. After being stretchered off with a broken leg in Game #6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup finals, he came back to score the game winning goal in overtime and forced a Game #7 ... which the Maple Leafs subsequently won.
And how about the story of Steve Yzerman? After winning an Olympic gold medal in 2002, his knee became “swollen to the size of a football” as a result of a long-term injury that he was playing through since 1988. While he would eventually receive “three separate surgeries to replace ligaments and cartilage” in the off-season, shockingly, he didn’t miss a game during that year’s playoffs, essentially playing on one leg en route to a Stanley Cup win.
Alec Martinez scored a semi-famous goal for the Kings one time
Injury lore for the future: If you thought playing through gruesome injuries was a thing of the past, think again. A very recent case that we remember vividly was what happened to Zdeno Chara in 2019. We remember seeing the replay of the puck deflecting off his stick, the resulting broken jaw, him returning to sit on the bench that game, and him lacing up to play in Game #5 of the series. But the leadership of recent Bruins players doesn’t stop there.
Back in 2013, Patrice Bergeron played through Game #6 of the Stanley Cup Finals with a cracked rib, torn rib cartilage, a separated shoulder, and a punctured lung. And similarly unreal, how about Erik Karlsson in 2017? Late that regular season, Karlsson suffered two hairline fractures in his left foot which resulted in four torn tendons. Nonetheless, while losing in the Eastern Conference Finals, the speedy defenseman averaged 28 minutes per game and produced 18 points in 19 games. Simply amazing!
It isn’t for nothing that people say the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win in professional sports.