Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald was hurting. With his team killing a penalty near the midway mark of the third period of a tied game with the Edmonton Oilers, MacDonald sacrificed his body by willfully stepping out to put himself in the path of a Milan Lucic shot. The radiating pain registered immediately and intensely.
For a long moment, MacDonald struggled to rise.
"Lower body," he said after the game. "It's just a stinger. Just kind of went limp there for a little bit."
With Michael Raffl in the penalty box and MacDonald in a world of hurt, the Oilers heavily pressed the attack. Regaining his bearings but still gimpy, MacDonald somehow scrambled back in front of the net to break up a scoring chance with a diving sweep check.
"You've just got to get up. If you don't get up, it's a 5-on-3. There are other opportunities that can arise from it. Do your best and try to hang in there. Wait for some help. Wait until you clear it. It is what it is. Everyone battles through it. You take a shot. You just get up, get back in there and help your guys," MacDonald said.
Edmonton regained possession of the puck and continued their assault. After many nerve-wracking seconds in which a go-ahead Oilers goal seemed imminent if Philadelphia's tiring penalty killers could not clear the puck from the defensive zone or get a stoppage, the puck went to MacDonald for a crucial clearing opportunity. He succeeded, just barely, as the puck slid over the blueline. The Oilers had to retreat to get onside.
Sequences such as these are hardly rare. They happen repeatedly over the course of any given season. Nevertheless, they can be the difference between a team winning or losing a game. In this case, the Flyers successfully killed off the Raffl penalty and went on to win, 2-1, on a late goal by Wayne Simmonds.
Afterwards in the victorious postgame locker room, MacDonald's teammates made sure that his efforts did not go unnoticed.
"Those are the sacrifices you've got to make. Mac is one of the best in blocking shots. So kudos to him," Jakub Voracek said.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux added that the sequence had a direct impact on how the rest of team rose to the occasion over the remainder of the third period.
"He makes a lot of those plays during a hockey game. That one, obviously is a highlight type of play. Not just to block the shot, but then to make a play after that as well, to stay out there and make a play at a critical time of a hockey game. Those are the kinds of things that give your bench a little bit of momentum and a bit of a lift," Giroux said.
Around the Flyers locker room, there is universal respect for the 31-year-old MacDonald.
Before the start of the season, the players took a vote to appoint a new alternate captain. They opted for two veterans - MacDonald and forward Valtteri Filppula - to share the role. MacDonald wears an "A" in away games, while Filppula does at home.
Talk to MacDonald's teammates, and they inevitably point to his professionalism and unflappable nature. The unassuming Nova Scotia native goes about his daily business in a positive manner: enviable work habits on and off the ice, a good communicator, and as someone who takes accountability within the room. Thus, on a team in which there are two rookies, a second-year NHLer and a third-year NHL on the blueline corps, MacDonald is considered a leader by example.
MacDonald has hardly traveled an easy path in his hockey career, playing Junior A hockey in the Maritime Hockey League before playing major junior in the Quebec League for the Moncton Wildcats. Combining with Keith Yandle on the blueline, MacDonald was part of a QMJHL championship team in 2005-06.
A sixth-round pick (160th overall) of the New York Islanders in 2006, MacDonald split his rookie pro season between the ECHL and American Hockey League before working his way up to the NHL. He's had his share of ups and downs but never backed down from a challenge or moped when things have not gone his way.
MacDonald led the NHL in blocked shots during the 2013-14 season, which was split between the New York Islanders and Flyers. Signed by the Flyers to a six-year contract extension to pre-empt impending unrestricted free agency at a time when the price tags on the UFA defensemen market were at high tide, MacDonald struggled in the first year of his new contract. By his own admission, he let the pressure of trying to live up to the contract get in his head.
The next season, after a so-so training camp, MacDonald spent much of the campaign in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Rather than being a disruptive force, MacDonald displayed a positive attitude and leadership during his roughly three-quarters of a season back in the AHL. During the latter portion of 2015-16 season, MacDonald was back in the NHL as a regular on the Flyers' blueline. He's been there ever since.
"Mac is just a solid pro," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "He brings a certain element of efficiency and poise to our hockey team. He's not flashy but he skates well, defends well, moves the puck. He is an aware player with good attention to detail. Bottom line is that he plays his role well and has done a good job for us."
It is no secret that MacDonald is a maligned defenseman among a vocal portion of the fan base, especially within social media circles and among analytics devotees. The criticism does not bother the player himself. MacDonald has the peace of mind of knowing his Flyers teammates, at least, are unanimously in his corner.
One of MacDonald's ardent supporters is his blueline partner, Ivan Provorov, with whom he spent much of last season and the entire current campaign to date. Already the defending Barry Ashbee Trophy winner at age 20 and one of the NHL's fastest-rising young two-way defensemen, Provorov would be a standout with a variety of different partners patrolling the right side of his pairing.
However, the young Russian is quick to deflect some of the praise for his individual success to being part of a tandem with MacDonald.
"Mac is a good partner, because it is easy to play with him," Provorov said on Oct. 12. "We understand where we are together on the ice. We just have a good chemistry, defensively and offensively; good communication. He does a lot of little things that maybe people don't notice but make it easier for me. He's definitely helped me a lot. I like playing together."
Previously, MacDonald played with Shayne Gostisbehere as a partner. As with Provorov, Gostisbehere says that he benefitted from the opportunity to play with the veteran.
"He's always calm and just a great guy in general. He's also a great player to play with, whether you're a rookie or a veteran," Gostisbehere said.