Glistening pools of blood. Spouts of blood. Smears of blood that can’t quite be completely scraped from white ice.
Hockey’s that way sometimes — blessedly rarely — a hurtin’ game of sharpened steel on exposed flesh.
On Friday at the Prudential Center in Newark, a blade slashing across Ilya Mikheyev’s right wrist. Jesper Bratt’s skate. Accident. The Leafs forward actually continuing to play the puck in the corner for a second before racing to the bench, cradling his forearm, trailing blood.
Rink to ambulance to hospital to operating room.
Memory snaps back to Grand Guignol scenes of red mist from the Maple Leafs’ past.
Detroit’s Gerard Gallant stepping accidentally and awkwardly on the face of Borje Salming, a gruesome injury that left the legendary defenceman with a Frankenstein tapestry, upwards of 250 stitches zigzagging from the corner of his mouth to his brow; Bryan Berard, sprawled and legs jerking, in a panic after Marian Hossa’s follow-through on a one-timer struck him in the eye — blade of the stick that time — rupturing Berard’s eyeball.
Puddles of blood. It always chills.
Salming resumed his career. So did Berard, despite the loss of vision in his right eye. And so — if not for a minimum of three months — will Mikheyev, God willing. But boy, he will be missed, such a versatile line-flopping piece.
The immediate news was as bad as it could be: from severe lacerations in the post-game dispatches to, by Saturday morning’s Leafs bulletin, overnight surgery to repair severed artery and tendons.
The good news, as good as it gets: Surgery was a success, presumably all the crucial bits properly reattached, and the 25-year-old rookie from Russia who has so endeared himself to teammates with his work ethic and wide-eyed oddball-ness was resting comfortably in his hospital room. Watched Russia kick Canada butt 6-0 at the world junior championship on Saturday afternoon.
“I think his spirits were boosted a little by Team Russia’s performance today because I know he was watching the game in his room,’’ Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe relayed. That was uplifting, a small stab at humour, after the pall which had hung over the team since the grotesque Mikheyev episode, everybody alarmed and quite sickened by the scene.
Weird, too, to depart a city with a teammate’s plane seat empty, as if no player should be left behind. In New Jersey. Though GM Kyle Dubas and assistant athletic therapist Jon Geller stayed with Mikheyev through the night.
It’s unknown if the Omsk-born “Souperman” also caught the caboose end of a weekend back-to-back, the Leafs hosting the Rangers, New York snapping Toronto’s win streak at six games — 5-4 in OT — after Auston Mathews had sent it into extras with 53 seconds remaining on the clock and the Leafs net empty.
“We’re proud of the way we battled back,” said Matthews afterwards. “Obviously it would have been nice to finish it off, but we were never discouraged. With the way both these teams play, high-powered offences, you get your chances. We battled back.”
Anti-climactic, but one valuable point secured in the last game of the decade at Scotiabank Arena. With an extensively gerrymandered lineup.
Given the Mikheyev melodrama, few had noticed in that same game how Jake Muzzin limped off the ice at the end, after William Nylander scored the overtime winner. Blocked a shot in the first period with his foot. Scarcely mentioned to anyone the pain he felt. Because, hey, it’s balls-to-the-wall Muzzin.
Recalled Justin Holl: “At one point on the bench, he said, ‘I think I broke my toe.’ So he kinda knew, but he gritted through it. He’s a warrior.”
That’s Holl who will be among the D-crew eating up gobs of minutes that would otherwise have been filled by Muzzin, who’s week-to-week on a team that had already racked up 78 man games lost before arriving at the Dec. 28 juncture.
“We’re going to miss both guys, obviously Ilya for quite a while,’’ said John Tavares. “It could have been worse, but still a tough loss for us.”
Worse defies imagining. Worse could be, well, dead.
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The captain on Mikheyev: “He’s come in and embraced everything about being here … His professionalism, his work ethic, his passion for the game is off the charts. You see it every day, how he goes about his business, how he carries himself, how much he enjoys being a part of this group.”
The captain on Muzzin: “He plays hard and he plays big minutes for us. You can see why he’s won the Stanley Cup, just the type of battler he is. He sets the tone for us in a lot of ways, in a lot of areas.”
They can’t afford to be tone-deaf now, with or without Muzzin in the mix.
Four Leafs now concurrently waylaid by injury, none of the ailments minor: Mikheyev, Muzzin, Andreas Johnsson’s broken something or other (lower body), Trevor Moore out with a concussion. Came this close to losing Mitch Marner too, struck in the ear by a puck in the third period but back after a fix-up in the waning minutes.
Versus the Rangers, the team dipped into their Marlies gene pool again, recalling Martin Marincin for the depleted blue line and also summoning Adam Brooks, who made his NHL debut.
“We have pretty good chemistry together,” assured Holl, partnered with Marincin from Marlies days of not-distant yore.
Still, a whole lot of adversity staring the Leafs in the face, just as the team had really started to barrelhouse, climbing from 21st place in NHL standings at last Mike Babcock sighting to ninth at puck drop Saturday.
And that’s assuming Freddie Andersen can be a lights-out goalie because — reminder here — there’s still no sturdy backup option. Some of the cracks had already begun to show in Andersen’s game, giving up three or more goals in five of his past seven starts. Penalty shot save on Pavel Buchnevich in this game was easy-peasy — right at Andersen’s stick — but there was un-Freddie shakiness on a couple of New York’s goals.
Seriously, if Keefe can navigate this shredded roster through the shoals of injury and deliver Toronto to a playoff inlet, he’s got to be in the conversation for coach of the year. Only three coaches who replaced head coaches after the start of a season have ever won the Jack Adams: Bill Barber, Bruce Boudreau and Ken Hitchcock.
Keefe’s Leafs are 12-4-1.
Certainly Keefe, who not long ago claimed nothing had much come as a surprise since he was named bench boss in late November — mostly because it has all been a whirlwind, the Leafs criss-crossing the continent on lengthy road trips — has his hands full at the moment, grappling with the body shortage and, yes, the gloomy mood provoked by Mikheyev’s misfortune. Which, in the past 24 hours, had more players openly talking about Kevlar protection for wrists and ankles.
Kevlar is what cops and soldiers wear to stop bullets.
The Leafs will doubtless have to dodge a fusillade in the weeks ahead.