Vancouver Canucks defenceman Sami Salo is not exactly known for his toughness, but he was being lauded for precisely that after his team's morning skate on Tuesday.
Salo, who is suffering from a testicle injury after taking a Duncan Keith slap shot to the groin on Sunday, skated with his teammates and took practice repetitions on a pairing with Alexander Edler, his regular defence partner.
He was not made available to the media, and his playing status is still unknown, but the veteran Finn certainly looked ready to comeback, despite excruciating pain that led to a hospital visit during Game 5.
"He's a leader back there and he's a warrior," Vancouver's Ryan Kesler said. "A lot of guys would be down-and-out for a couple of weeks."
Head coach Alain Vigneault said Salo's availability would be a "game-time decision."
Salo, who has sustained 38 injuries in his 12-year NHL career, had previously said that he was finished trying to play through ailments, and would only dress when 100 per cent healthy. That applied to regular-season games, however, and the Canucks are on the verge of elimination, trailing the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.
They face the Blackhawks in Game 6 Tuesday at GM Place.
"It's the time of the year where players go the extra mile," Vigneault said, adding that a dressed Salo would be a positive influence on his teammates.
Salo looked ginger during the morning skate. He didn't attempt slap-shots, nor did he stretch his groin-area either before or after practice. If he cannot play, head coach Alain Vigneault said Lawrence Nycholat would make his 2010 NHL debut.
The 31-year-old journeyman hasn't played since early April, with the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose, and has not participated in an NHL game since March 2009.
"It's been a little while," Nycholat said. "At this time of year...you want to try to simplify your game."
Without Salo, it would be no surprise if Vigneault shortened his bench and used just four defencemen. Andrew Alberts has received less playing time as the postseason has unfolded.
Salo, 35, needed help to get to the bench area at the end of the first period on Sunday. Buckled over in pain, Salo couldn't move in the Canucks dressing room and was taken to hospital for precautionary reasons.
"The boys were feeling for him," Canucks defenceman Shane O'Brien said. "[If Salo plays]it goes to show what exactly we're playing for here."
If Salo takes the ice, given the sensitivity of his injury, even the rowdiest Blackhawk said it would be against the code to target the area. Though he joked about "brushing up" against Salo so that some of his toughness rubs off, Chicago forward Adam Burish said he wouldn't cross this most sensitive of lines.
"I'm not going near that thing. What if it pops?" Burish barbed. "If he plays tonight, he's an iron man.
Asked if targeting Salo's injury would be against hockey's code, Vigneault continued the hilarity.
"We can't talk about Sami's injury and we haven't said, really, where it is," Vigneault said. "They wouldn't know where to go."