Playing with pain is a hockey tradition

Playing with pain is a hockey tradition
June 15, 2013, 8:15 am
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CHICAGO – If there’s any chance Nathan Horton can suit up and play for Game 2, he’ll be answering the bell on Saturday night.

The Bruins right wing practiced with the team on Friday afternoon at the United Center, alternating rushes with Tyler Seguin, his likely replacement on the David Krejci-Milan Lucic line if he can't go. Horton looked like he was moving, shooting and skating without high levels of discomfort.

Simply participating in a practice obviously is more than a little different from a Cup Finals game, where 200-plus-pound opponents are looking to make mincemeat out of you, but Horton instilled some excitement in his teammates simply by practicing.

Still, Horton probably doesn’t feel like he has much of a choice, despite any left shoulder problems he continues to battle through. After all, his team needs him; he has seven goals and an NHL playoff-best plus-22 rating in 17 games this spring, and he, Krejci and Lucic have been the best forward line in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs. They accounted for two of Boston’s three goals in Game 1.

There's a time-honored tradition in hockey, and in the Stanley Cup playoffs in particular, where players routinely solider through pain and suffering. Blisters and irritated eyelashes may sideline those in other sports, but hockey players suit up in games when they know surgery is waiting for them once the postseason has been finished.

There’s a reason breakup day for NHL teams also invariably includes a list of players headed for the operating room after getting banged up, bruised and battered while through the playoff meat-grinder.

“I think everybody wants to win a Stanley Cup. It’s what every hockey player dreams about when they’re young, and you play for that for the whole season,” said Dennis Seidenberg. “You sacrifice a lot just getting there, and then once you’re there you want to make sure you leave everything on the ice so you don’t have any regrets afterward. That feeling you get when you win the Cup . . . you want to have that feeling again."

And then there's the Campbell Factor. Fourth-line center Gregory Campbell set the tone for the rest of the Bruins during the conference finals when he managed to get up on a broken right fibula and finish off killing a penalty after taking an Evgeni Malkin slap shot off the outside of his leg.

“It’s obviously [Campbell],” said Seguin, when asked about the biggest “playing-through-pain” example he could give during the Stanley Cup playoffs. “At the time nobody really knew [Campbell had suffered a broken leg], but I think guys were thinking something was wrong when he went down."

Campbell was grimacing and wincing his way through the courageous shift before finally exiting the ice after the Penguins power play had concluded, and, in so doing, set the bar for pain tolerance on the Bruins.

It isn’t about playing hockey with a broken limb, because that’s not possible aside from gritting things out for a few moments. But it is about willingness to sacrifice everything for the team, and that has to include playing through a healthy level of pain.

That also has to include playing above and beyond an individual player’s own personal interest, and that means putting immediate team goals, like winning the Stanley Cup, over individual achievements like making certain that a big-money contract is coming in the offseason. Horton will be an unrestricted free agent after the season is completed, and there are a handful of arguments for him to protect his shoulder, and his free-agent value.

But that’s not the way hockey players are wired in May and June.

“You just have to look at the teams that have been eliminated,” said coach Claude Julien. “As soon as they're eliminated, [that's when] you hear all about the injuries. It's a very common thing in our sport, especially at this time of year. Nobody wants to be left out or pushed out of a lineup.

“When you look at the Stanley Cup, what it means to you, there's no doubt you don't want to be denied that opportunity. Players are tough in this sport. They'll play through a lot. There's some on both teams right now. You'll find out more when the series is over.”

Onlookers already know about Horton’s cranky left shoulder, popping in and out of the socket.

And they also know that, unless the pain and discomfort is unbearable, it's not going to be enough to keep him out of the lineup.