Simon Gagne, the forgotten man on the Los Angeles Kings roster, has had more good days than bad days lately, which is the best news that any long-term concussion sufferer can have. But Gagne had one exceptionally good-news day last week, as his teammates were busy polishing off the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference final.
After weeks of painstakingly dealing with concussion protocols, Gagne received the medical all-clear to return to game action.
"Last week, when the guys went to Phoenix, I went to see the doctor and he signed that little sheet that I got cleared to play hockey again. So now, we'll see what happens. The only thing I can do is work hard and skate hard every practice and get myself ready, because you never know what can happen."
The Kings will not make any line-up changes, unless injuries oblige them too. However, coach Darryl Sutter knows how quickly things can change on the injury front. During his trip to the final with Calgary in 2004, the Flames lost so many defencemen along the playoff path that they ultimately had to dip into their minor-league system for a defenceman, Brennan Evans, that had never played an NHL game to play in two Stanley Cup playoff games. According to Sutter, you never know what can happen in the playoffs.
"He's available," said Sutter. "That's why he's practicing with the team. That's a better way of looking at it. Instead of saying, he has a zero or five or 10 (per cent chance to play), he's available. The more games you play, the more important it is to have good players (at your disposal).
"You just go back and look at the finals the last seven or eight years and at the number of players that played in those games, or on those teams. You'd be surprised at how many there were."
Gagne limited to only 34 games this season because of concussion issues, had been cleared to practice some weeks ago and said he would travel to New Jersey.
"Everything's good," said Gagne. "I got cleared by the team two weeks ago. Before that, I was skating with the extra guys from the minors and the prospects for at least a month. Before that, I was skating by myself and we kinda kept it a secret. So from March on, I've been skating every day.
"But it's one thing practicing by yourself. When I jumped on the ice with the guys, I started to feel really good. This was the point where I did the step the doctor was asking us to do and pushing yourself every day. From there, if everything is good, you do your base line test. After that, it's contact – and I did that – and game situations, we did all that and I was still feeling good. So right now, I'm all cleared."
"I'm with the team, right to the end."