Survival of the fittest
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In the end, when scouting reports were no longer important, many of those injuries were finally disclosed. Rugged defenseman Jassen Cullimore played despite breaking his wrist. Cory Stillman tore up his MCL early in the playoffs, yet soldiered on. Dan Boyle, whose house caught fire early in the series, played with a broken thumb.
Pavel Kubina missed just one game despite suffering a suspected concussion. Vinny Lecavalier didn't miss any games despite being face-planted into the glass and knocked woozy by a vicious hit in Game 4. Ruslan Fedotenko, meanwhile, missed just one game after his cheek met the boards in a heavy smashup in Game 3 that resulted in a nasty gash on his right cheek.
That's right, the same Fedotenko that scored both Tampa goals in Game 7 -- both coming after Fedotenko suffered a stitch-worthy cut to his eyebrow early in the game.
Again, such behavior is par for the course come April, May and June for NHL players. They grow up on the stories of past players playing through pain to chase the Stanley Cup dream. Then, they arrive at the NHL level and they see the sacrifices first-hand. It changes them in ways they could not previously comprehend. Suddenly, they too are willing to endure personal pain for the greater good.
Tampa Bay veteran Tim Taylor learned those lessons while a young player with Detroit. While with the Red Wings in the early 90s, he watched star center Sergei Fedorov play through a separated shoulder during one Stanley Cup run.
He remembers hearing stories about legendary defenseman Slava Fetisov bringing Fedorov to the rink the night before a game and making him skate to show Fedorov that he could still play. Fedorov played.
Lukowich, meanwhile, learned his lessons well while with Dallas. In 1999, he was a healthy scratch, but he was still involved enough to know the secrets of that locker room.
Brett Hull, who scored the Cup-winning goal against Buffalo, was playing with a MCL injury, he says. Center Mike Modano had a broken wrist. Benoit Hogue had a "knee thing."
"It was pretty much every guy on that team -- knee, ankle, chest, knee, finger, toes, whatever, they had it," said Lukowich.
The next year, the Stars lost to New Jersey in a demanding six-game test of wills. Again, Lukowich had a bird's-eye view of the action. He is still haunted by the effort of teammate Darryl Sydor in Game 6. Sydor, who played for the Lightning this time around, sprained his ankle while standing in front of the Dallas net. Falling to the ice, Sydor still tried to crawl into position to potentially block shots before a whistle finally stopped play.
"Players will do anything to win the Stanley Cup," said Lukowich, simply. "Anything!"
Experiencing that mindset first-hand left Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella in awe.
"As I said the other day, and I have never realized it, it's easy to talk about what players have to do to win the Stanley Cup," said Tortorella, the first American-born coach to win the Stanley Cup since 1991. "It's easy to look at how many days they have to play and from on the outside say 'Geez, that's tough.' But I have been very fortunate to be with this team and do it for my first time in the National Hockey League, to go on this long journey with them and it's just an -- it's been an incredible experience in how tough it is and what these guys have to go through.
"Both teams are banged up. Both teams are hiding injuries. I have a tremendous amount of respect for both teams getting this far and what these players have to do. You guys don't know. You think you do, but you don't know what these players have to go through. I am not just talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning; I am talking about the Calgary Flames. You don't know. To be with them and go through four rounds, I have nothing but respect for the athletes. That's why it's about the athletes."