Playing through and keeping quiet about injuries is just part of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Players often times will continue to carry their normal workload despite playing through some pretty intense pain. It isn’t until breakup day following a team’s elimination that those injuries rise to the surface and become public.
For the New York Rangers, Monday’s breakup day featured just that, as old injuries were explained in greater detail, while others came to light after the fact. But while the injuries most certainly played some sort of role in the team’s ultimate demise at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they also help explain certain things. Nobody in the organization used them as an excuse.
This Rangers team still believed they were going to advance. This Rangers team still believed they could win the Stanley Cup.
The most public injury was the one suffered by Mats Zuccarello. The 27-year-old Norwegian forward was struck in the head by a Ryan McDonagh slap shot in game five of the Rangers’ first round series against the Penguins. At the time, the team only revealed it to be an “upper-body injury.”
As it turns out, it was a bit more than that, as Zuccarello suffered a brain contusion as a result of the shot. He also lost the ability to speak for four days, couldn’t move his arm, had blood in his brain, and has since gone through speech therapy.
But as scary as that sounds – and it’s a good thing he wasn’t rushed into returning to the lineup – Zuccarello is expected to make a full recovery, and if the timeline holds, he should be ready for next season.
The Captain of the Blueshirts played the final three-plus games of the Eastern Conference Final with a fracture of his foot. The injury, which he played through thanks to treatment from the medical staff, was suffered during game four in Tampa Bay.
It only became evident that something was wrong when McDonagh did not take a shift to start game seven and Matt Hunwick was inserted into the lineup as the seventh defenseman. It was after the game seven loss that Alain Vigneault revealed the injury to the media.
Dan Girardi also suffered an injury in game four in Tampa Bay, only his was a grade one MCL sprain. Girardi, who rounds out New York’s top defensive pairing alongside Ryan McDonagh, also played through his injury for the final three games of the series against the Lightning.
Prior to Monday, there was no reason to suspect any injuries to the 31-year-old Ranger blue liner.
Add Marc Staal to the list of injured Ranger defensemen and you’ve got each of the top three New York defenders who were all playing through injuries these playoffs. As it turns out, Staal had suffered a hairline fracture in his ankle during the regular season, and he played through it for the entirety of the postseason, showing no signs of weakness.
#NYR Injuries: McDonagh fracture-right foot gm 4. Girardi Grade 1 MCL sprain gm 4. Staal – hairline fracture-ankle suffered in reg season.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) June 1, 2015
If anything, Staal almost looked better in the playoffs than he did during the regular season.
And finally, defenseman Keith Yandle suffered a shoulder sprain after taking a hit in game two of the first round against Pittsburgh. Yandle managed to not miss any time due to the injury, and finished the playoff run as the team’s defensive leader in points with 11 in 19 games.
Despite the injury, Yandle got better as the postseason wore on. His best series was the Conference Final against the Lightning when he posted seven points (2-5-7) over the seven game series.
Explanations, Not Excuses
When you consider the fact that the Rangers played their final games of the season without Mats Zuccarello (who’s injury turned out to be far more serious than first thought), and with more than half of their blue liners battling injuries, it’s pretty remarkable that they still managed to come within one period of the Cup final.
And yet despite all that hindered them in the final days, the Blueshirts still believed they could and would win. The injuries, while they do help explain some of what went wrong, do not make coming up short any easier.
The Rangers had one goal, and that goal was to bring home the Stanley Cup, injuries or not. No excuses from this Rangers team, just disappointment that the goal was not achieved.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.