Boston's Patrice Bergeron
played in last year's Stanley Cup Final with injuries that would cripple mere mortals. (SI)
By Allan Muir
Still numb from the pain of being eliminated in Game 6 the night before, forward R.J. Umberger offered up the laundry list of injuries he'd played through while hoping to help his Columbus Blue Jackets get past the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A broken finger. A separated shoulder. A herniated disc in his back.
"But my lower body is fine," he joked.
It's become a tradition the day after an NHL team is eliminated from the postseason. Call it The Revelation. That moment when players who have successfully (and sometimes not so much) hidden the physical toll exacted by the playoffs can finally unburden themselves of their painful secrets.
Dislocated elbows. Broken jaws. Knees held together by baling wire. Fractured fibulas. You hear these stories in the aftermath and you wonder how some of them could dress themselves, let alone wade into battle knowing that everyone wearing the other color was looking to target their injury.
Of course, none of this is done to create an excuse for a series loss or worse, to draw attention.
It's more like a moment to honor the price paid in pursuit of the Stanley Cup and to remind the next generation that it is very, very high.
Hockey has always demanded that its athletes shake off injuries that would leave the stars of some other sports scrambling for their street clothes and a doctor's note. But the playoffs? Well, expectations are ratcheted up a notch. Or ten.
And the stories those expectations create become the stuff of legend.
GALLERIES: Playing In Pain-NHL Style | NHL's Faces of Battle
It didn't start with Rocket Richard, but he set the bar in Game 7 of the 1952 semi-finals against the Bruins. Knocked senseless by a nasty Leo Labine check, he languished on the bench trying to gain his bearings until late in the third period when lied to coach Dick Irvin, telling him that he was fine. Bleeding from his head and unable to focus his eyes, Richard still managed to dance through the entire Boston team before sealing the win with what may have been the greatest goal of his career.
Bobby Baun raised the bar in the 1964 Cup Final. The Maple Leafs defender flung himself in front of a Gordie Howe slapper in the dying minutes of Game 6. The shot shattered his ankle and should have ended his season. Instead, when the game went to OT, Baun demanded the trainer tape it and load him up with painkillers. He returned to the ice--again, on a broken ankle-- to score the clinching goal that sent Toronto on to Game 7 and its third consecutive championship.
And in a town where a baseball player was deified for pitching with a bloody sock, Boston's Patrice Bergeron defied logic and the limits of the human body with the incomprehensibly high pain threshold he displayed while playing in the 2013 Final against the Blackhawks.
GALLERY: Playing In Pain (across sports)
On top of injuries picked up through the previous three rounds, Bergeron suffered torn rib cartilage in Game 4, a broken rib on his left side in Game 5, and a separated right shoulder and a punctured left lung in Game 6. The lung eventually collapsed, sending Bergeron to the hospital immediately following the Bruins crushing loss. Following. He spent the next three days there in recovery. Part of that time he was hooked up to a machine that helped him breathe.
What men like Richard and Baun did was uplifting, but there's almost something more noble in the suffering of Bergeron or Umberger or Darryl Sydor in the 2000 Final or Paul Kariya in 2003.
It's a reminder that no matter how heroic or selfless, the suffering alone won't buy you the Cup. But it's certain that you won't get one without being willing to meet that price.
And maybe next time the pain will pay off. Even Wayne Gretzky learned that truth the hard way.
For more, see the May 5, 2014 edition of Sports Illustrated magazine for Brian Cazeneuve's feature "You Gotta Play Hurt."