BOSTON — The roar was the loudest that TD Garden had experienced during the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. Zdeno Chara, the towering captain for the Boston Bruins, was introduced to the crowd as a Game 5 starter, after reportedly breaking his jaw in Game 4 against the St. Louis Blues.
He wore a protective mask around his face. Earlier in the day, he answered questions in writing to reporters because talking would have been too uncomfortable. He didn’t speak much on the ice during the game, either. But his presence was inspiring to his teammates.
“Much is made of his professionalism, his toughness, his approach. But [when] you see that in the flesh, you have a whole other level of appreciation for it. The guy’s 42. When I’m 42, I’m certainly not going to be the first guy in the gym, weighing all my food, squatting the most on the team. Those are all the things you respect,” defenseman John Moore said. “You throw in the fact that what he’s going through — that’s something I’ll tell my kids about. Life lessons I’ll carry long beyond hockey.”
Here’s the lesson we’ve all learned about playoff hockey through the years: NHL players are willing to put their bodies through pain, anguish and risks to their long-term well-being for a chance at a championship. In this postseason alone, we’ve seen it with Chara, Vince Dunn of the Blues (who took a puck to the mouth in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final) and Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks (who suffered a bloody head injury in Game 7 of the club’s first-round series).
“It’s the Stanley Cup, that’s it. I don’t have a better answer for you. I think I know where you’re going, we’ve done this long enough. I suspect for every player [the motivation] is to get their name on the Stanley Cup. It’s that simple,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Here’s a look back at some of the most infamous (and intensely painful) injuries players have suffered through yet returned to the playoffs and made their marks on history:
Bob Baun, 1964 Stanley Cup playoffs: Broken ankle
Canadian hockey legends can be born from a single moment in a single game. Ask Paul Henderson. Or ask Bob Baun. In Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final against Detroit, the defenseman took a Gordie Howe slap shot off his foot and was carried away on a stretcher with a broken ankle. His ankle wrapped tightly — and some painkillers later — Baun returned to the ice to eventually score the game-winning goal in overtime. Toronto would win Game 7 and the Cup. Baun later called it “the best break I ever had.”
Mario Lemieux, 1992 Stanley Cup playoffs: Broken hand
New York Rangers forward Adam Graves was suspended four games for his “reckless” slash that broke Lemieux’s left hand in their second-round playoff series. There was fear Mario was done for the playoffs, but the Penguins star returned in the conference final against Boston and scored 15 points in seven games to lead Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup and win the Conn Smythe. In total, he missed 15 games. “There’s no way a broken hand can heal that quickly,” teammate Kevin Stevens said. “He’s a superstar, the best player in hockey. We don’t know how he does it. He never practices, then he goes out and never misses a beat. He’s amazing.”
Patrick Roy, 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs: Appendicitis
Not all playoff injuries are the result of the opposition’s actions. In 1994, during a series against the Boston Bruins, the Canadiens goaltending legend developed early signs of appendicitis the day before Game 3, and he was in the hospital when backup Ron Tugnutt lost to Boston. Roy couldn’t stomach this, so he returned to play the next four games, and had a 60-save performance in Game 5. After the Canadiens were eliminated in the first round, Roy had his appendix removed.
Steve Yzerman, 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs: Knee injury
This was less about an injury suffered in the playoffs than one exacerbated by them. The 36-year-old Red Wings captain played in the 2002 Olympics through pain, and an MRI showed he had almost no cartilage left in his right knee. But he played on, taking painkiller injections before each game of Detroit’s run to the Stanley Cup and scoring 23 points in 23 games. He had reconstructive knee surgery in the offseason, his surgeon urging retirement. Instead, he missed all but 16 games in the next season — but would go on to play two more seasons thereafter.
Paul Kariya, 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs: Concussion
It was one of the scariest moments of the season: Paul Kariya, Mighty Ducks star, flat on his back in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Devils after a Scott Stevens head shot. He had a history of concussions. Concerns were high. But in a moment that … well, frankly, probably wouldn’t happen today with what we know, Kariya returned to the game a few minutes later and scored a goal. As ESPN’s Gary Thorne bellowed: “Off the floor and on the board!“ (The frightening postscript: Kariya doesn’t remember that goal or the entirety of Game 7 today.)
Ian Laperriere, 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs: Multiple facial injuries
It was not a good season for the Philadelphia Flyers forward’s face. In November 2009, he took a slap shot to the mug that knocked out seven teeth and required 100 stitches to repair. In the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, he blocked a Paul Martin slap shot with his face, fracturing his right orbital bone and suffering a concussion. He thought he might have lost his eye. Nevertheless, he returned to the Flyers’ lineup a month later for their final eight playoff games.
Sami Salo, 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs: Midsection injury
On May 9, the Vancouver Canucks defenseman continued an injury-riddled career with one of his most squeamishness-inspiring ailments: a ruptured testicle in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, courtesy of a Duncan Keith slap shot. On May 11, he was back on the ice for the Canucks, as they were eliminated by Chicago in Vancouver, where fans — because hockey fans are the greatest — were heard chanting “Balls of Steel” when Salo was on the ice.
Duncan Keith, 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs: Seven lost teeth
The Blackhawks defenseman is not the first nor the last hockey player to return to action in a game in which he lost some teeth. But Keith lost seven of them — three on the top, four on the bottom — when Patrick Marleau‘s stick hit him in the mouth during the Blackhawks’ series-clinching win over the Sharks. Two of them fell out of this mouth. One got stuck in his throat and then he coughed it up. The others “disintegrated,” according to Keith. He returned to the game after team doctors “froze” his gums to numb the pain.
Derek Stepan, 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs: Broken jaw
Before there was Chara, there was Rangers center Stepan. Former teammate Brandon Prust broke Stepan’s jaw with a hit in Game 3 of the New York’s Eastern Conference final series against the Montreal Canadiens. He missed Game 4, as his jaw was surgically repaired. He returned in Game 5, wearing a full face shield and with additional padding, and scored two goals in a loss. He’d play the rest of the way as the Rangers would eventually lose in the Stanley Cup Final.
Sean Couturier, 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs: Torn MCL
In NHL speak, it was a “lower-body injury.” But in reality, the Flyers forward played the last two games of their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a torn MCL in his right knee. After missing Game 4, he scored the game winner in Game 5 and then had a hat trick and five points in their Game 6 elimination loss. “That was incredible,” Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald said after the game. “If you guys only knew what kind of shape those guys were in. I respect the hell out of those guys.”