Ryan Suter doesn’t look right, but he refuses to admit anything. Ask him about his left arm and he’ll smile and say everything is A-OK.
Suter took a horrible spill in Game 3 after a collision with Chicago’s Marian Hossa and landed awkwardly. He left the game holding his arm in a way that suggested he had suffered a serious injury.
Naturally, Suter returned for the third period.
But the Wild’s star defenseman hasn’t looked the same since. He hasn’t played poorly. He just looks like a guy who might have an arm injury, which prompted another round of health questions a day before Game 6.
He insists his shoulder is not an issue. OK, how about his elbow?
“I’m feeling great,” he said, laughing as he exited the interview room.
That should be the official mantra of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Everyone feels great, or at least well enough to play. The NHL postseason is nothing if not a testament to the willingness of players to ignore their aches and pains and broken bones in pursuit of the Cup.
A team that’s still alive at this time of year is like the family beater sitting in the driveway. It looks rusty and worn, but the thing still fires up when the ignition is turned.
“I think it’s just a matter of will and who wants to win the most, who’s fresher and who feels better,” Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said.
The NHL playoffs are such a physical and mental grind that success often is determined by a team’s ability to survive in one piece. If, as players suggest, the 82-game regular season is a marathon and not a sprint, then the postseason is the marathon after the marathon.
Players beat their bodies to a disgusting pulp and then pretend nothing is wrong. Actually, they’ll usually acknowledge something’s wrong with their “lower body” or “upper body” but that’s about it.
Sometimes, they’re even more purposely vague than that.
Boston’s Patrice Bergeron left Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final last season and went to a hospital because of what the team described as a “body injury.” Coach Claude Julien later told reporters that Bergeron was “day-to-day” after initial reports indicated that Bergeron suffered a ruptured spleen.
Bergeron finally came clean after he played in a series- ending Game 6 loss. He admitted that he had suffered a broken rib, torn rib cartilage and a separated shoulder.
“I was obviously going through a lot of pain,” he noted.
At least he could talk about it. Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson took a puck to the throat on a shot by Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin in Game 2 of this series.
The Blackhawks defenseman did not miss a shift, but doctors ordered him not to talk, possibly for two weeks, as he recovers from his throat injury.
Think about that. He’s medically cleared to play, but not talk.
These guys are nuts.
“You hear stories about the guys that have won before and the things that they go through,” Suter said. “I think that’s why it is so hard. That’s why it’s so fun to be a part of because you know the reward at the end.”
The physical punishment is starting to take its toll. Wild Captain Mikko Koivu looks a step slower, which might have something to do with the screws he had inserted into his right ankle during surgery in early January. Jason Pominville doesn’t look as explosive offensively as he did in the regular season.
Veteran Matt Moulson seemingly forgot how to skate the first few games of this series before being removed from the lineup by Wild coach Mike Yeo because of a “lower body” injury.
The Blackhawks and every other team left in the playoffs are in the same boat as the Wild.
“Every single guy in [our] locker room and every single guy in their locker room has issues right now,” Suter said.
Koivu brushed aside a question about his ankle. Feels good, he said. That’s a standard line these days.
Here was a conversation with Suter the day after his hard fall:
Q: Did you think it was serious?
Suter: That was kind of scary, but I feel good.
Q: Did it go numb?
Suter: Yeah. (smiling).
Q: But it’s fine?
Suter: Yeah. (smiling).
Glad to clear that up. This is how it goes in the playoffs. Players wreck their bodies but somehow ignore the pain. The allure of the Cup is a powerful thing.
Chip Scoggins email@example.com