The past two weeks Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was under a doctor's strong recommendation to limit his speech after being struck in the throat May 5 by a shot from Minnesota Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin.
Hjalmarsson was cleared to speak again Monday and met with reporters at United Center for the first time since the injury occurred. After being struck by the puck Hjalmarsson dropped to the ice and grabbed his throat. He was down for a few minutes before slowly skating to the bench to get his breath back. He didn't miss a shift and has played all five games since it happened, including Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.
"It was pretty scary once it happened," said Hjalmarsson, who has worn a Kevlar neck protector the past five games. "It was tough to breathe there for a couple minutes. I was just glad that I recovered quickly. And once I figured out that I'm able to breathe, it was a big relief. I guess I was pretty lucky and I'm just glad to be able to talk again and can't wait to get rid of that neck guard that I'm still wearing."
Chicago leads the best-of-7 series 1-0 after a 3-1 victory in the opener at United Center. Hjalmarsson did what he does best to help the team, logging 18:55 of ice time, blocking four shots and helping the Blackhawks kill off both Kings power plays.
Prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers on Monday, Hjalmarsson led the NHL in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 42 blocked shots. He also was ninth in the League in shorthanded time on ice at 3:23 per game.
The Blackhawks and Kings return to United Center for Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
Hjalmarsson's willingness to sacrifice his body to block shots really stands out, especially in the playoffs. It seems like he skates to the bench at least once a game shaking off some kind of pain after blocking a shot, but he just sees it as part of his job requirement.
"I don't think it's a special skill," Hjalmarsson said. "A special skill is like [Patrick Kane], who can score special goals like that … that only he can. And [Jonathan Toews]. Shot-blocking, every single guy on the team can do that. You just have to get in front of the shooting lane. I don't really see it as a special skill. It's just a matter of desperation and [trying] to do everything you can to prevent the other team from scoring goals. Every guy in this League can block a shot if they want to."
Not every guy can play through from some of the things Hjalmarsson has, including his latest issue. Not being able to verbally communicate with his teammates was a bit of a challenge, but they made it work.
"I think every time I hear him talk it's in Swedish anyways, so there's not too much communication," Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad said. "He's a great player and he leads by example with the way he plays. Regardless if he's saying stuff or not, the way he plays on the ice with blocking shots and playing well defensively, it speaks for itself."
Now that Hjalmarsson is back to speaking, things should be a little easier, at least for defense partner Johnny Oduya.
"I'm a guy that usually talks a lot on the ice, especially with my [defense] partner, screaming at him and screaming at my teammates sometimes too," Hjalmarsson said. "I think for some of the forwards, they were pretty happy with me not being able to talk for some time. As far as [Oduya], I think he's pretty happy that I can communicate again. It was a little challenge, but [in the] playoffs, you've got to play through some injuries every now and then."