The NHL playoffs have become famous for feats of extreme toughness – almost no injury is too severe to be gutted out.
New York Rangers centre Derek Stepan has his jaw broken, finishes the game, has surgery and misses only one game.
Montreal Canadiens winger Dale Weise gets smoked by a vicious blindside hit to the head from John Moore, finishes the game despite being visibly wobbled.
The other thing about playoffs is the cat-and-mouse game surrounding diagnosis and prognosis.
The Rangers were less than transparent about how much time Stepan would miss, now the Canadiens, who were up front about the fact goalie Carey Price would sit out the series after being injured in game one (he finished the period, natch), are muddying the waters with Weise.
As they prepare to stave off elimination once again, this time at Madison Square Garden where the Rangers will play their most important game since their 1994 Stanley Cup run, the Habs are confirming Weise will sit out in favour of Brandon Prust (who injured Stepan with a suspension-worthy hit of his own).
But that’s as far as they’ll go.
“He has a body injury,” said coach Michel Therrien, who was peppered with questions about whether Weise did indeed suffer a concussion.
The swift-skating Winnipegger did spend some time in the quiet room after the hit in game five, where he was examined by the team physicians (“we trust our doctors,” Therrien said).
“He was feeling fine about finishing the game. For us, what is really important is player safety. This is important for us. It’s been like that all season long. It’s not going to change. For a player not able to play the next game, this is something that we could see on a regular basis,” Therrien said. “You can see Stepan finished a game with a broken jaw, get an operation the next day, miss Game 4, and came back after his operation. So those are the things that you see at this time of the year.”
Part of that has to do with the circumstance – careers are short, chances to play in a conference final are rare – some of it is a function of hockey culture.
It’s also a result of the most common psychological advice dispensed to hockey players: stay in the moment.
As Gorges said: “Sitting in the quiet room, I’m not thinking ‘well in 30 years am I going to be. . . ‘ the only thing I’m thinking about is ‘get me back out’.”
The quiet room itself, said winger Brendan Gallagher, is exactly that – usually a washroom or an office, where player is examined and asked a series of questions (some teams use the SCAT2 diagnostic test).
Asked if he’s been through it, Gallagher laughed and said “yeah, I get hit a lot.”
There is also a hockey game to be played on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS) and both teams will put out altered lineups.
Weise’s absence will rob the Habs of perhaps their fastest skater, but Prust will inject other qualities as he returns from a two-game suspension.
“He’s really important, he’s a guy who brings a lot to our team physically, killing penalties, so we’ll use his energy tonight, which will be great for us,” said Gorges.
New York, meanwhile, is likely to dress former Habs defenceman Raphael Diaz (who was traded to Vancouver for Weise in January and later shipped off to New York).
That will give the Rangers two right-handed shots on their third pair, but coach Alain Vigneault didn’t seem worried about having the Swiss, who hasn’t seen any action since May 20, play on his off-side.
“Diaz has played a little bit of left side. When he has, he has been good,” Vigneault said.
The Habs are under no illusions that they will have as easy a time beating New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist as they did in game four, when he was chased in the second period.
“I we think it’s going to be easy to score, we’re going to be sadly mistaken,” said Gorges.
In the Rangers’ room, the talk was about starting strong and staying disciplined.
When defenceman Marc Staal was asked whether they’re approaching it like a game seven, he said: “We need to treat it like a game six at home for a chance to go to the Stanley Cup final, and that’s motivation enough.”
Speaking of game seven, if one were required it would be played Saturday in Montreal.
And should the Habs somehow manage to advance, they might get a hefty boost in the final.
Price took shots at practice for the first time since his injury – believed to be to his right knee – and was practicing his butterfly.
He wasn’t moving quite as freely as he normally does and here’s no official timeline on his return, but these are the sorts of things teammates notice.
On a night where emotion and motivation will be in ample supply, it’ll be interesting to see if it makes a difference.