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Injuries sideline players only rarely

Only the most severe (as in near death) halt the chase for the Cup.

Published June 5, 2004

The Stanley Cup playoffs have seen their share of brutal injuries. Players getting stitched up on the bench. Others coming back with casted wrists or broken orbital bones.

But over the years, some players couldn't return, too badly beaten up even for a chance to play for hockey's Holy Grail.

Take, for instance, the 1919 final, when so many players went down the series was canceled.

The final pitted the Seattle Metropolitans against the Montreal Canadiens. Two years earlier, Seattle beat Montreal to become the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. And the Canadiens were at the beginning of a run in which they dominated for decades.

But the rematch ended 2-2 when Spanish influenza decimated the Canadiens, leaving seven players hospitalized. Seattle also was hit by the bug, just not as hard. A flu that broke out the year before killed about 675,000 Americans and 20-million people worldwide.

"The great overtime games of the series have taxed the vitality of the players to such an extent that they are in poor shape indeed to fight off such a disease as influenza," the Montreal Gazette wrote.

The Seattle arena was quickly converted to a roller rink, and in a denouement, Canadiens player "Bad" Joe Hall died four days later.

In the 1928 final, Game 2 was scoreless in the second period when future Hall of Famer Nelson "Old Poison" Stewart of the Montreal Maroons fired a shot on goal that struck Rangers goalie Lorne Chabot in the eye. Chabot went down bleeding and was taken to the hospital.

Goalies did not wear masks then, and they did not have backups waiting on the bench. Rangers coach Lester Patrick asked if he could replace Chabot with a goalie who was watching among the spectators. When the Maroons balked, the 44-year-old Patrick climbed over the bench and donned the goalie gear. The crowd cheered wildly.

Patrick once was a top rushing defenseman. Goalie was not his forte. Though no one would have known by the way he played.

Patrick stonewalled the Maroons for the rest of the second period, flopping on his knees and back to make several saves. The third period opened with a Rangers goal for a 1-0 lead. Patrick kept up his strong play.

"Patrick went flat on the ice to stop two Maroon rushes with the house in a turmoil," the New York Times wrote.

After end-to-end rushes, the Maroons finally slipped the puck past Patrick to tie the score. In overtime, Patrick made several more saves. The Rangers won when Frank Boucher clipped in a goal seven minutes in and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

"Patrick played a great game, stemming off numerous attacks by the strenuous Maroons, and was wildly applauded by the (Montreal) crowd," the New York Times wrote. One of the most famous injuries in playoff history came when "Mr. Hockey" nearly died. The Red Wings' Gordie Howe was one of the best and toughest players in the game's history. He led the league in scoring six times but wasn't afraid of the rough stuff either.

In the 1950 playoffs, Howe went to check the Maple Leafs' Ted "Teeder" Kennedy. When Kennedy stopped suddenly, Howe crashed into the boards headfirst. The blow knocked him unconscious and fractured his skull. Blood spread across the ice. Emergency staff carried him off on a stretcher.

The hockey world held its breath as Howe had surgery to relieve pressure from his brain. He did not return to the playoffs. Detroit went on to win the Cup, and Howe was cheered as he walked out slowly to join the trophy presentation.

Howe recovered and went on to set the record for games played. He played his last season in 1980-81 at age 51.

[Last modified June 5, 2004, 01:18:12]

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