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Franzen, St. Louis continue tradition of playing with pain
Updated 4/20/2011 8:40 AM ET
The brutal truth about competing for a Stanley Cup is that sutures and numbing agents can be as essential as goals and assists.

Last week, when the Detroit Red Wings' Johan Franzen came back to play minutes after having an ugly gash stitched up and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Martin St. Louis had a goal and an assist one game after spitting out broken teeth, it was simply keeping up the NHL's long tradition of accepting pain and suffering as part of the playoff march.

"It's historic in our game," Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said. "Guys are expected to play with pain, and it's respected. I hope it never changes. Other athletes lie so they don't have to play, and hockey players lie so they can play."

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Four years ago when the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup, defenseman Scott Niedermayer soaked his body in ice after every game, said Burke, then the Ducks' GM.

"I couldn't put my foot in that ice tub for 30 seconds, and he is in it up to his chest because his lower body was so sore," he said.

In Game 5 of that year's Final, Chris Pronger separated his shoulder on the first shift. "They shot him up, and he missed two shifts," Burke said.

Burke said Sammy Pahlsson was so banged up he couldn't practice during the last two rounds but he played in every game.

"You just feel that it's part of the job," Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "You are not doing if your job if you are not willing to sacrifice. And the tradition has been on. The generation before you has talked about how tough they were, and you don't want to be the generation that drops that ball."

The most famous case of an NHLer playing through an injury in the playoffs occurred in the 1964 Stanley Cup Final when Toronto defenseman Bobby Baun scored an overtime goal on a broken leg to beat Detroit 4-3 and force a Game 7.

But it's not difficult to find examples before then. In the 1952 semifinals, Montreal Canadiens star Maurice "Rocket" Richard scored the series-clinching goal against the Boston Bruins with blood dripping down from a bandage on his forehead.

"I think football is the only sport that approximates hockey," Burke said. "I think the average football player is hurt all year. I think the average player has some level of pain 24/7 during the season, and I think that's true of most hockey players."

Most modern NHLers have heard the stories about how Mario Lemieux's back pain was so severe he couldn't tie his own skates. Yet he went out and helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.

"If you are playing two months, every other night, chances are there is always some player getting something done," Detroit's Kris Draper said. "At this time of year, you do whatever you can to play."

Former NHLer Jeremy Roenick, an NBC analyst, suited up in the playoffs with his jaw broken in five places.

"But I've seen guys with broken hands take the needle (to numb the pain) and then tape their hands to their stick," Roenick said.

Some changes in tradition have occurred because there is a greater awareness of the danger of concussions. The strict protocol for determining whether a player has suffered a concussion means players no longer can try to hide or play through that injury.

"But it is remarkable what else players will play through," St. Louis Blues President John Davidson said.

Burke said the crackdown on hooking and other obstruction after the lockout has saved players some pain.

"I remember you looked at guys in the playoffs and they had so many welts that they looked like zebras," he said. "That came from being raked across their rib cages."

Detroit general manager Ken Holland said he never saw anyone play in more pain than Steve Yzerman when he led the Red Wings to the 2002 Stanley Cup championship.

"He got shot up before every game," Holland said. "He could hardly walk. He had a knee that was bone on bone. He was in such incredible pain."

After the season, Yzerman had a knee osteotomy, in which the surgeon adds a wedge of bone to the shinbone to take the weight off the damaged area of the knee.

"If you watch clips of the 2002 playoffs, Steve would fall down and he would have to use one knee and his stick to pop himself back up," Draper said.

Draper also recalled that former Detroit player Brent Gilchrist played through a double sports hernia. His teammates would cringe knowing where the needle was going.

"We all knew when he was getting frozen because we could hear him," Draper said.

How long is the needle they use to freeze the injuries?

Said Draper: "I don't know, because you don't look at it."

Posted 4/20/2011 12:34 AM ET
Updated 4/20/2011 8:40 AM ET
Steve Yzerman played the 2002 playoffs and won a Stanley Cup on a knee that was essentially bone on bone. He needed major surgery in the offseason.
By Harry How, Getty Images
Steve Yzerman played the 2002 playoffs and won a Stanley Cup on a knee that was essentially bone on bone. He needed major surgery in the offseason.