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Belanger adds teeth to Caps? playoff drive

by Dan Rosen
Yes, that was Washington center Eric Belanger reaching his left hand into his bloody mouth to pull out his own tooth Friday night during the first period at Verizon Center after Marc-Andre Bergeron's stick caught him square in the mouth.

And yes, that was Belanger returning to the game in the second period after undergoing what coach Bruce Boudreau loosely termed a root canal in the trainer's room.

Unfortunately the Capitals couldn't use the inspiration of Belanger's remarkable return to pick up a series-clinching victory. The Canadiens won, 2-1, to force a Game 6 back at Bell Centre on Monday night.

Belanger, who had some exposed roots trimmed during the first intermission, said he will be 100 percent ready to play.

"It was just bad luck," Belanger said. "He made a pass and the stick just came up and my teeth shattered right away. I knew I was in trouble, but what are you going to do, it's the playoffs, and I came back to try to help the team win.

"If we would have gotten the win I would have felt much better."

Bergeron's stick came up high after he delivered a pass from center ice and the blade hit Belanger in the mouth, knocking his helmet off and sending him sprawling to the ice. Belanger lost that one tooth you saw him pull out and about seven more. He required stitches as well.

He said Saturday morning from Kettler Capitals Iceplex that he was on his way to the dentist's office "to be on the chair for a couple of hours and try to be comfortable to get ready to go on Monday."

Belanger does not wear a mouthguard because earlier in his career he lost three of his top teeth and can't get a good bite on the mouthguard to keep it in place.

"He's a warrior," Boudreau said. "I don't know if you guys ever lost eight teeth and had a root canal done between periods and still come back to play; the courage it takes to do that is phenomenal. That's what you see in the playoffs. You see (Philadelphia forward) Ian Laperriere's face almost mangled by blocking a shot and our guy, Eric, doing that. It should be an inspiration on what this means to people in the playoffs."

Belanger was upset that a high-sticking penalty wasn't called on Bergeron, and his frustration was magnified by the fact that he came back and couldn't help the Capitals get over the hump to clinch the series on their home ice.

"It was a long night," Belanger said. "It makes it a lot tougher to digest this morning."

Boudreau hinted that the officials told him Bergeron's stick came up from a follow-through and it was inadvertent, but he didn't see it that way.

"To me, that wasn't a follow-through. A follow-through is usually from a stick on a shot," he said. "This was a pass where Bergeron's stick was on the ice when he passed it and then his stick came up more out of protection than anything else, but it came up with blade first and caught poor Eric right in the mouth."

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