NEWARK, N.J. - Ian Laperriere had one question for Jim McCrossin when the Flyers' trainer reached him at center ice:
"Can you see my eye?"
The small miracle of the Flyers' becoming the first team to win a first-round series - after being the last team to squeak into the NHL playoff field - will have to take a backseat to the miracle that McCrossin's answer was yes. Yes, Laperriere's right eye was still there.
Third period. Flyers leading, 3-0. Laperriere was in the defensive zone as the puck came out to the point. That meant sacrificing his body to prevent a shot getting through.
This time, the puck was bouncing unevenly along the ice as New Jersey defenseman Paul Martin wound up for the shot. Martin launched a rocket as Laperriere dropped to the ice and slid toward the puck.
What followed was sickening to watch. It was terrifying to experience, enough so that it changed Laperriere's point of view about his safety.
The puck struck Laperriere inches above his right eye. He jumped to his feet and started skating. As he crossed the blue line, the blood started spraying onto the ice, first droplets then big fat spatters of it. Laperriere finally went down again between the red line and the far blue line.
"I was a little bit in a panic mode," Laperriere said after the Flyers eliminated the Devils. Stitches (between 60 and 70 of them) stuck out like a second eyebrow above his puffy right eye. Dried blood still stained his face.
"I couldn't see anything out of my right eye," he said. "That was the scary part. I came back in here and into the medical room, and I still couldn't see. That wasn't a good feeling. I asked Jim if he could see my eye and he said, yeah, it's there. There were doctors in here waiting for me."
Just a few months ago, Laperriere took a shot full in the mouth. It cost him seven teeth and required about 100 stitches to close that wound. And yet there he was, diving in front of another frozen rubber projectile.
"I don't think twice about doing it," Laperriere said. "That's what I do. Next game, if I have a shot to block a shot, I'll go down. The day I stop doing that, I'll retire. You learn from your mistakes. I'm 36. I'm still learning from my mistakes."
The lesson last night, finally, was to wear a plastic shield from now on. It is something Laperriere's wife has urged him to do, advice he opted to ignore for the oldest reason in hockey. Laperriere is a grinder, a tough guy. The guys who just might wind up fighting don't wear shields.
"It was just a stupid macho thing in my head," Laperriere said. "I'm still going to be willing to fight anybody. I'll just have to take my helmet off. This is my last warning. It was bad luck tonight, but it was my last warning. Call me dumb, call me stupid, but it took me that to realize my eyes are important."
The Flyers lost two of their more dangerous scorers, forwards Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter, because of bones broken by blocking shots. This team, so hard to figure out for so much of this past season, has found its playoff identity, and it is a promising one.
This team plays hard. This team makes sacrifices. This team plays desperate. The Flyers will be underdogs in the next round - likely against Washington, the team with the NHL's best regular-season record - but they will be a tough, tough out.
How tough? Laperriere tough.
"Lappy would have been back on the bench if they could have stitched him up in time," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.
Moments after crews scraped the blood off the ice - we're talking playoff hockey here - Chris Pronger threw himself in front of a shot from the left of goaltender Brian Boucher. A couple of minutes after that, Blair Betts hurt his hand blocking a shot very close to where Laperriere was struck.
"Guys are doing whatever it takes," Pronger said. "Sometimes blocking one with your face is what it takes. Guys see that on the bench. It only makes them want to push harder, sacrifice more after watching guys do stuff like that."
It would be easy to say the Flyers just match up well against the Devils and that Martin Brodeur is not the big-game goalie he was. Truth is, the Flyers outplayed a very good team and overcame a great goalie. Their determination showed in every stitch above Laperriere's eye - and in his commitment to returning with a shield.
"I want to watch my kids grow up with both eyes," Laperriere said, and it was a little tough to see out of your own eyes as he said that.