TAMPA, Fla. -- When Tampa Bay Lightning forward Simon Gagne was laying on the ice at Verizon Center during Game 1 of his team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, his medical history made fears of another lengthy absence a sincere possibility.
Gagne's head hit the ice after a check from Washington defenseman Scott Hannan, and he appeared to be unconscious before getting to his feet and leaving the ice with the help of a member of Tampa Bay's training staff. He missed much of the 2007-08 season because of concussion problems, and the scene in Washington was scary for anyone -- let alone someone who has been through that before.
As it turned out, Gagne will only end up missing three games. He's been skating with the team this week and expects to be in the lineup for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Saturday.
"It was really hard to sit out, especially at this time of the season missing time," Gagne said. "That's the best time to play hockey. It is so fun to play right now. It was hard, but the good thing at the same time for myself was the team winning in four games [against Washington]. It gives me a chance to get a good break and make sure everything is OK and be able to play the first game against Boston."
By sweeping the top-seeded Capitals, the Lightning earned themselves more than a week of rest and Gagne will be one of the guys who benefits most from it. He skated with the team earlier in the week in a red, no-contact jersey but he was in a normal blue sweater Thursday at St. Pete Times Forum and even worked with the team's top power-play unit along with Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Eric Brewer.
Gagne said after the initial shock of the incident wore off, he was fine and has had no lingering issues from the play.
"It is not like I had in the past. It is not like a concussion," Gagne said. "I hurt myself and I felt really good after -- it was nothing like, no symptoms that was equal to a concussion, so that was a good sign. That's why I am back that early on the ice. I was feeling really good soon after it happened, so that's why I'm not worried about that type of injury like I had in the past. It is not the same thing."
Added Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher: "Right after his injury he was much better -- the next day he was fine. It has been a long time since he starting feeling good, so it is not like all of a sudden he's starting feeling good the past couple of days. He's the one that has been trying to push it the last days because he's feeling really, really good. I think I have the same concerns with him that I do with the rest of the players, which is getting the timing of the game after more than a week off. But nothing more than the other players, no."
Gagne was acquired in the offseason from Philadelphia and had 17 goals and 40 points in 63 games this season. He missed time with a neck injury and got off to a slow start, but Gagne had 7 goals and 18 points in the final 13 games of the regular season.
He followed that up with 2 goals and 7 points in the opening round against Pittsburgh. Gagne is two shy of 100 postseason contests in his NHL career and has proven on several occasions to be a key contributor in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Simon has become a great leader on our team and he's been through the playoffs," Lecavalier said. "He's probably the guy who has played the most games in the playoffs. To have a guy like that, with his experience and being a big part of our team, to have him back is something huge for us."
If it were up to Gagne, he might have been back a little sooner. Thanks to his teammates though, he had plenty of time to rest and make sure he's ready to go in the next round.
"We took our time," Gagne said. "At first I was thinking maybe play the games here in Tampa -- Games 3 and 4. At the same time we had the lead 2-0 so we kind of decided to take a step back and see what happens. We won Game 3 so it was almost like, 'Let's wait again.' There was no rush. I'm not going to lie -- I was hoping to come back in that series but we finished them in four so I didn't have to rush it back.
"It was tough at the same time. I was definitely cheering a lot during Game 4 when we won the game."
There's no discouragement in that room. There's no issues there at all to be honest with you. It's more about, 'Hey, it's opportunities for players.' And if we become that bad of a team because of one player, it's not a real good sign for our hockey club. So this is part of sports. It's part of hockey.
— Bruins coach Claude Julien on the loss of Zdeno Chara to injury