VANCOUVER — The fans cheered, "Balls of Steel! Balls of Steel!" a couple of shifts into Sami Salo’s night.
If they only knew what it took to get Salo on the ice for Game 6.
"The doctors gave me a couple of shots before the game. It was pretty good," he said of the testicle that came just short of being diagnosed as ruptured, after a blocked shot slipped under his protective cup in Game 5.
"The general was fine," he joked. "The first battalion was down."
Salo played 19:32 on Tuesday night, getting extra ice time after Alex Edler went down in the first period. The big Finn looked barely able to skate at the morning practice, but was less limited come game time.
"Limited? Not really," he said. "I never made excuses about injuries. I’ll never start doing that."
He didn’t flinch as he spoke of taking at least two needles to dull the pain so that he could play. "That’s nothing new. That’s part of hockey."
It was a show of toughness that wasn’t enough on elimination night for the Canucks. But it did not go unnoticed by his teammates.
"No one knows that type of pain, besides him," lockermate Shane O’Brien said. "To still suit up, he went out there and played hard for us. That’s the type of guys we have, but unfortunately we came up a little short tonight."
Chicago’s Adam Burish, never one to compliment a foe, tipped his hat to Salo at the morning skate.
"If he plays tonight, man, that guy’s an ironman," said Burish. "Maybe I will rub up against him, so I can get some of that toughness. How you can play through something like that blows my mind."
Hockey lore is stacked high with stories of players who played through decimating injuries on their way to the Stanley Cup.
The story goes that an old Edmonton defenceman, Lee Fogolin, once extracted some dental work with a curtain hook lifted from his hotel room, so he could make the roster that night.
Every NHL veteran has his own story.
"Dave Tippett, in Hartford," began ex-Vancouver defenceman Dave Babych, when asked about the greatest feat of toughness he witnessed over his 19 NHL seasons.
"He had a partial breakaway, somebody chops him and dislocates his thumb. He gets a penalty shot awarded," Babych recalled. "He comes to the bench, his thumb is (pointing in three direction), and Jack Evans, our coach, says, ‘We’ve got to get someone to take the shot.’ Tippy goes, ‘No — put this thing back in place.’
"The trainer grabs it, right in front of everyone, and yanks his thumb back into place. He goes in, scores on the penalty shot."
These are the moments when true bonds are forged between hockey teammates. Especially after what these Canucks saw in Game 5, when Salo could barely make it into the dressing room from the ice after taking a Duncan Keith shot off the testicle.
"He came off, he wasn’t bleeding or anything," said O’Brien, who figured Salo must be OK. "But Sami couldn’t move for the whole intermission. He was in tremendous pain. I’d rather take it off the face."
"The thing about Sami," said Kevin Bieksa, "he’s had a lot of injuries and he’s taken a lot of flack for it, but he’s played through a lot of injuries that people don’t know about.
"Just being out there shows how much he wants it. How much he wants to be part of this."