-- There's just one thing that motivates Philadelphia Flyers
forward Ian Laperriere
more than wins, and that's sacrifice.
It's contagious, too. Particularly when you consider the Flyers needed one win to advance past the New Jersey Devils
in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday night before an energized crowd at Prudential Center.
There's absolutely nothing Laperriere won't do to help his team to victory. He proved that in the regular season and again Thursday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals when the Flyers rolled to a 3-0 series-clinching victory.
Laperriere is a hockey warrior. At 36 years and 3 months, he's the oldest player on the Flyers' roster, and it shows from the battle scars that mar his face. He could tell you how each scratch got there, too, but there's really no need.
"A good-looking guy like Lappy? Sometimes blocking one with your face is what it takes," Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger
said with a grin. "The guys see that on the bench and that only makes them want to push harder, to sacrifice more, because they're watching guys do stuff like that."
With his team down two injured players in Simon Gagne
and Jeff Carter
, coach Peter Laviolette
challenged others to elevate their game. Laperriere, doing what he does best, was happy to oblige. In the process, he set the bar for his teammates and those 17,625 in attendance -- showing exactly the type of effort required this time of year.
The Flyers were up 3-0 but in the midst of killing off yet another Devils power play when Laperriere decided to step in front of a slap shot by defenseman Paul Martin
three minutes into the third period. By the time he realized he had slid too early, the puck slammed into his forehead at top speed, opening his face to the point where a trail of blood followed him as he skated blindly on the ice before getting medical attention.
"When I grabbed (athletic trainer) Jimmy (McCrossin), I asked him if my eye was still there," Laperriere told reporters after taking between 60-70 stitches along his right eyebrow. "He said 'Yeah, there was just so much blood.' I was a little bit in panic mode, I couldn't see out of my right eye. It's one thing to see, but when you don't see anything, you kind of panic. But after laying on the medical table for two minutes once I got inside, I started to see shadows and then everything came back to normal."
It marked the second time in six months that Laperriere had taken a shot to the face. It was during a penalty-killing situation in November against the Buffalo Sabres
that a Jason Pominville
slap shot to the mouth resulted in 70 stitches and seven lost teeth. It would be one of 74 blocks on the season for Laperriere.
He blocked six shots in five playoff games against the Devils.
"It was scary," Flyers forward Daniel Carcillo
said of Laperriere's injury Thursday. "I've never seen someone sacrifice their body the way he does, in this League or anywhere, for that matter. It's pretty amazing. You never want to see anything like that happen. I saw him asking (if his eye was still there). He's been doing it all year. He's always the guy that we could look to for blocking shots and sacrificing. You want to have the courage to be able to do what he does."
"That's the way you win playoff series," Laperriere said. "It's all about sacrifice. You need to block shots and need to do what it takes. I'm proud of everyone in this room, and in the next series we're going to have to sacrifice even more. I know everyone is looking forward to the next series."
Laperriere knows he's at a crossroads in his career. He ranks among the League's top shot blockers each season among forwards and knows it's a risky proposition. When he spoke to reporters looking Frankenstein-esque on Thursday, you could tell the thing that upset him most was the fact he's finally learning the risk might not be worth the anguish he puts his family through.
"I want to see my children grow up with both of my eyes," Laperriere said. "You want to block shots but you don't want to block shots with your face."
All the more reason why we'll finally see a shield attached to the helmet the next time he takes to the ice.
"I made a stupid mistake again and I'll wear (a shield) for the rest of my career now," he said. "I don't care anymore. I'll continue to fight -- I'll still take off my helmet. It's just that stupid macho thing in my head, and (Thursday) made me realize I've got to smarten up. I have to think about my family more than anything else."
He was one of several players exhibiting sacrifice at a time when Philadelphia needed to come up big in the absence of a few star-studded players.
"The amount of shots that we blocked in this series and the guys -- I'll guarantee you that Lappy (Laperriere) would have been back on the bench if they could have gotten him stitched up in time," Laviolette said. "He and (Blair) Betts, all of them, but he and Betts do such a tremendous job. They're the front line of those blocks, with (Mike) Richards and (Simon) Gagne."
Flyers goalie Brian Boucher
, who earned his second career playoff shutout on 28 saves in Game 5, is extremely grateful to have players like Laperriere on his side. The Flyers totaled 85 blocked shots in the series.
"You don't win without guys paying the price," Boucher said. "The ultimate sacrifice you can make for the team is blocking shots and it's the only reason we're moving on to the second round. I hope Lappy is OK. The guy is an absolute warrior and he takes so much pride in killing penalties and blocking shots. Without him and guys like Blair Betts
, we wouldn't be going to the second round -- we'd be done."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com