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Crunch time
Michael Farber
May 29, 2000
Hockey's postseason is a war of attrition, and the team with the best survival skills is likely to be the one that hoists the Stanley Cup
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May 29, 2000

Crunch Time

Hockey's postseason is a war of attrition, and the team with the best survival skills is likely to be the one that hoists the Stanley Cup

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LeClair was speaking with a nasal twang, the result of a broken nose he suffered in Game 3 when New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur followed through on a clearing pass and inadvertently carved LeClair's face. A thick line of blood poured out of his nose as he lay behind the New Jersey net late in the third period. LeClair took 36 stitches to his nose and another three to his right eyelid. He would have returned to that game, a 4-2 Philadelphia win, if the doctors had had more time to sew him up. "At this time of year," says Miller, the Colorado defenseman who was a college teammate of LeClair's at Vermont, "stitches are just about the best thing that can happen to you. Sew it up. No problem. Let's go."

LeClair was back for Game 4, wearing a visor and volunteering to move from his natural left side to the right on the Crazy Quilt Line that had natural center Simon Gagne at left wing and natural right wing Recchi at center. LeClair repeatedly drove to the net, had perhaps five good scoring chances and assisted on the final goal. " LeClair's cut up pretty badly, but that'll just make it more inspiring when he comes back," right wing Rich Tocchet predicted last Friday. "You know we've got Primeau one night, LeClair one night, and Langkow will be back. Real warriors."

There's a silver lining to every black eye. In the short and maybe medium term, the natural rate of attrition can spur a team. The Flyers have survived nicely without Lindros, Colorado thumped the Detroit Red Wings in Round 2 without Bourque for half the series, and last year Pittsburgh seemed to improve for a few games against New Jersey while Jaromir Jagr was nursing a groin injury. And having a star come back can provide a big lift. The Stars took a quantifiable bounce in the second round against the San Jose Sharks after puck-moving defenseman Sergei Zubov returned from a sprained knee. ( Dallas's power-play efficiency improved from 77% in Round 1 to 22.7%.) Stars wing Jere Lehtinen, who played only 17 games this season because of a right ankle injury, provided similar inspiration in Game 2 against Colorado, taking over for Morrow on Mike Modano's line, which accounted for all the Dallas goals in a 3-2 win. "As long as you know you're getting a guy back," Hitchcock says, "you might get something positive out of his injury."

During the 1999 playoffs Stars trainer Dave Surprenant said Dallas was operating "on guts and tape—and I've run out of tape." As the Stars prepared to play Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Buffalo Sabres last season, six Dallas players knew they needed off-season knee surgery, and Modano was playing with a broken left wrist. Needles and intravenous drips were everywhere. The most extraordinary thing about this grim tableau was that none of the players thought it was exceptional.

"Sure, it's survival," Dallas right wing Mike Keane says, "but what's the big deal? We get three months off to rest. We're just like schoolteachers, except we don't work for a living."

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