PAUL HOLMGREN had said it would take hell freezing over for Ian Laperriere to miss the Flyers' next round in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In a matter of seconds last Thursday night, Laperriere's life flashed before his eyes at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Now, the remainder of his first season as a Flyer may have frozen over.
Laperriere yesterday visited a specialist in Pittsburgh, who confirmed an initial CT scan that showed a brain bruise as a result of blocking a shot with his face. The rugged winger is likely finished for the season.
"Right now, it's not safe for Ian to play," general manager Paul Holmgren said yesterday. "I think this is significant. They saw a little spot there initially and I think they were hoping, like we all were, that it would dissipate a little bit, but after seeing the doctor and validating it again today - it kind of erased any optimism we had."
The injury is every bit as significant now as it was gut-wrenching last week.
With 16:04 left in the third period of the Game 5 clincher, Devils defenseman Paul Martin wound up for a shot on the power play. As usual, Laperriere dived to prevent a shot on Brian Boucher.
Martin's rising slap shot caught Laperriere less than an inch above his right eye, causing an immediate torrent of blood to shoot from his face. Unlike the shot Laperriere took to the face on Nov. 27 against Buffalo, when he lost seven teeth and required more than 100 stitches, Laperriere didn't know where he was going. He said he couldn't see anything out of his right eye for 5 to 10 minutes after the impact. You could see him feeling around on the ice, looking for help.
"I said to Jimmy , 'Is it [his eye] there?' " Laperriere asked as he frantically skated off the ice.
The brain contusion, being called a mild concussion by doctors, is just one part of the injury. He also fractured the right orbital bone, required 60 to 70 stitches to close the wound above his eyebrow, and is still experiencing blurred vision.
Holmgren said Laperriere is out "indefinitely" and will be re-evaluated with an MRI after 4 complete weeks of rest. Laperriere said he will not take any chances with a brain injury.
"We're hockey players," Laperriere said. "We take pride in playing with injuries. But that's just one thing I can't do, for the sake of my family. Trust me, I want to be out there. I played 82 games just to play for the real season.
"Hockey is my passion. But my kids are my life. I have to think about that."
Laperriere knows he was lucky. A half-inch in the other direction and he could have been permanently blinded. Doctors determined that the puck, even with the brunt of its impact focused on his eyebrow, still made contact with his eye.
Laperriere, who has two sons, Tristan and Zachary, said he wanted to see his kids "grow up with both eyes."
"I have a family to think about," Laperriere said. "I can't be selfish about that one. The ending of that injury, if it goes wrong, there's [nothing] worse than dying on the ice. That's one thing I don't want to put my family though. I'm not willing to take that chance."
Laperriere's loss will be felt immediately for the Flyers no matter who their opponent is in the second round, which will be determined tonight in Washington with Game 7 between the Capitals and Montreal Canadiens.
"It's difficult to lose Lappy," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He is as valuable as Jeff [Carter] and Simon [Gagne] up front. But as we did in Game 5, we will rely on our team. He will be missed, but his health is most important."
Laperriere blocked 74 shots in the regular season, ranking him fourth among all forwards in the NHL. He is half of what might be the best penalty-killing tandem in Flyers history, with Blair Betts. The Flyers killed off 28 of 32 penalties in the first round.
Jon Kalinski, Andreas Nodl, Jared Ross or even Stefan Legein could fill in for Laperriere. Darroll Powe and Claude Giroux are expected to pick up the slack on the penalty kill.
"It's hard to replace Ian and what he does, particularly on the penalty kill," Holmgren said. "He's a heart-and-soul guy on our hockey team and it's hard to replace that."
Since the shot, Laperriere said he has watched the replay of Martin's shot "probably too many times." When he took the puck to the face in November, he was mad at himself for sliding too early.
This time, Laperriere said he did everything right. He slid, and if Martin had shot the puck initially, it would have hit him in the shinpad. Instead, Martin hesitated and shot to the other direction, across Laperriere's body.
Not surprisingly, he says he would do it again.
"I'm not mad about the play. That's the play I make a living with," Laperriere said. "I'm going to do that play again. I did it 10,000 times in my career and I'm going to do it again. It's a matter of bad timing, I guess."
When he returns to the ice, Laperriere, 36, vowed to wear a facial shield for protection.
"It's sad that it took an incident like that to make me realize that my eyes were that important," he said. "The 5, 10 minutes of not seeing anything out of that eye and panicking and Jimmy telling me my eye was still there, you get so many bad feelings going through your mind that I don't want to live that, or my family to live that, ever again."
Now, Laperriere said it would take a "little miracle" for him to be able to return this season but promised to play the role of cheerleader.
"The sky is the limit for this team," Laperriere said. "The way we played in the first round, the Stanley Cup wouldn't be dreaming. I wish I could be out there."