An unfortunate rite of playoff hockey is the trickling down of injury information in the hours and days following a team's elimination.
Thursday night, the Montreal Canadiens' embarrassing playoff run ended with a 6-1 loss to Ottawa that clinched the series for the Senators. Within an hour, we learned of the true depths of injuries to certain Habs players. Max Pacioretty played through a separated shoulder. Brian Gionta tried to ignore the torn muscle in his upper arm. Carey Price's knee didn't work.
Still, they all tried. They fought, and probably lied to, trainers because they wanted to play. They're hockey players, you know? They don't just do this because they can. Since they've been able to skate and hold a hockey stick at the same time, that big, crazy dream of winning a Stanley Cup has been pretty much the only thing they cared about.
So it's not shocking when we hear that they risked their long-term well being for a few fleeting minutes of holding a big bowl above their heads and yelling really loud. Unfortunately, some fans and pundits assume any player that misses a game at any point during this tortuous couple months is somehow shortchanging his teammates, his city and the sport itself.
Gionta missed Game 2. The Habs won. He played Game 3 without the luxury of a functional bicep. The Habs lost, disgracefully, and he was instantly ruled out for the rest of the playoffs. Like clockwork, the cries came from Habs fans and haters alike that Gionta was somehow unworthy of the other "C" he wears on his chest that signifies his role as Canadiens' captain. What a joke.
In every sport, athletes play through nagging, worse-than-they-realize injuries to make their teammates proud. And, in every sport, they're glorified for doing so no matter how poorly they play, unless they're Russian hockey players of course. So when a team or a player decides his ailment is just too severe for him to work through, fans turn on the player, even if it's their captain, in an instant.
Think about how badly a player has to be injured to miss a playoff game. In last year's playoffs, Ilya Kovalchuk fought through a herniated disk in his back for most of three whole rounds. Patrice Bergeron's oblique was so badly injured he couldn't even handle the torque of taking a faceoff -- a thing he's basically the best in the world at doing.
And it isn't pain that prevents these people from performing well. They'll gladly accept the constant stabbing every time they turn their upper body if it means they have more goals than the other team after 60 or more minutes. They're limited by biology. And, still, when this becomes such that they can't perform optimally, so they sit, they become scapegoats.
"They aren't committed."
"They aren't tough."
"They're just playing a game."
"I went to work with a cold the other day, so they can totally play hockey with a herniated disk or a torn biceps or broken foot because they make so much money."
Friday night, there's a chance three more teams may see their seasons end. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues all face elimination. At the moment, their lineups are peppered with non-specific bumps and bruises. When these teams stop playing, those upper- and lower-body injuries will get more specific names that reveal the true extents of the agony these guys played through.
For most, these revelations will be perfectly valid reasons for each players' slightly sub-par performance. However, the calls for these guys to be released or traded or criticized will also follow.
The Bruins announced early Friday afternoon that Game 1 hero Wade Redden will miss Game 5 with a nameless injury. Maybe it's serious. Maybe it's just a scratch they'd rather him not test with a three-game lead in a series and serviceable options in Matt Bartowski and Dougie Hamilton waiting for a shot.
After everything Redden's been through in the last few years, there's little doubt in my mind that he's basically incapable of playing hockey right now. He probably told a trainer and a doctor he felt fine. That it was no big deal. That he could play. They, thankfully, told him to take the night off. Questioning that decision is plainly disrespectful.
Hockey players make a lot of money. They get to play a game for a living. Their lifestyle comes with glamour and luxuries most of us will never experience. But they're also people.
They aren't superhuman. Even if they think are sometimes. And, even still, if you demand that they pretend to be.