There is an omertà about playoff injuries because players can become targets—as appeared to be the case in Game 2 of last year's final when the Penguins' Gary Roberts punched Detroit's Johan Franzen in the head upon Franzen's return from a concussion-related absence. "You can't be really sure who's hurt or how badly until a team gets eliminated and they disclose injuries," says Carolina's head athletic trainer, Pete Friesen. "This year you had [Flyers captain Mike Richards, who would need shoulder surgery], you had [Rangers center Chris] Drury playing with a broken hand, and you had the guy in Calgary [defenseman Cory Sarich] who had a fractured ankle. When it gets announced, it always makes for good [reading]."
The Red Wings travel in the playoffs with their full complement of doctors—a general practitioner, an orthopedic surgeon and a dentist. (In the regular season none of them go on road trips.) In the postseason teams order extra cases of electrolyte drinks, IVs and compression packs to get the drip into players more quickly should games go into overtime. (No Carolina player needed an IV during the Hurricanes' OT win over Boston in Game 3, but one player needed one the following day. Who? You think anyone would say?) There's also an abundance of old-school stuff such as bananas, oranges and other pick-me-ups for the extra sessions. When Penguins winger Petr Sykora played for Anaheim in 2003, he said between overtime periods of a marathon against Dallas that he hoped it would end soon because he was sick of eating damned PowerBars. As a point of reference the Celtics and the Bulls were lauded for an epic seven-game first-round series that included four overtime games and seven extra periods; those 35 minutes of overtime compose 72.9% of a regular game. When the Ducks' Todd Marchant scored at 1:15 of the third overtime in Game 2, Anaheim and Detroit had played an extra 68.8% of a game in a single night, and nobody thought anything of it.
Almost everything that has occurred in the past month and will occur in the next is filed under the all-encompassing category of Whatever It Takes. If you become a pawn in some subterfuge, you play along. Before Game 3 in New York in the first round the Capitals took the pregame warmup with different line combinations than coach Bruce Boudreau planned to use in the game, a practice known as scrambling the eggs. Detroit's Babcock might have a player stand up on the bench so the Ducks think his line is going on and then send out a different unit. "It can be putting too many guys on the ice between whistles," Babcock says, "or putting two different line combinations on the ice for a face-off and leaving one and bringing off the other." There is almost nothing a coach won't do to gain an edge, although so far this spring no one has ordered the visitors' dressing room to be painted, an old Scotty Bowman gambit. Late in the playoffs, teams often run on fumes; Bowman, when he coached the Red Wings in the 90s, may have made this literally true.
Playoff paranoia is always just beneath the surface, but it can flare into near psychosis. During a 1997 playoff series, Bowman complained that the visitors' bench in Colorado was too short; the Red Wings commissioned a local carpenter to build them a new one. In 2006 the Ducks suspected air traffic control in Calgary of making their plane sit on the tarmac for 90 minutes while the Flames' plane departed for Anaheim, assuring Calgary players of more rest before the next match. You couldn't invent a story like that any more than you could the matching hat tricks by Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin in Game 2.
"The playoffs is a lifestyle, a mind-set," Carolina grinder Scott Walker says. "You shut off the world. You're down at the rink, enjoying the guys, doing some video, eating lunch together, becoming a really tight-knit group. There's another level of urgency. You're used to looking at a schedule and knowing you play next Tuesday. Now if you lose, you go home and there is no Tuesday."
The unkindest cut is not Wellwood's; it's having to go home in the spring.