'A heart and soul guy'

Ian Laperriere will make his first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

After signing a three-year free-agent deal with the Flyers last July, Ian Laperriere said other NHL clubs were interested in a 14-year veteran with considerable wear and tear on his body. Among them, he said, were Calgary, Phoenix, and Toronto.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound veteran said he opted for Philadelphia, in part, because he thought the team was closest to winning a Stanley Cup.

And here the Flyers are, on the doorstep of sipping from Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time in 35 long years. And Laperriere, all but counted out for this season after being seriously injured while blocking a third-period slap shot with his face in a Round 1, series-clinching victory against New Jersey, is enjoying the ride as much as anyone.

"Yeah, it is special, especially since the way we came in," said the 36-year-old, referring to a mediocre regular season and a must-win finale against the New York Rangers. "We believe in our team. You know, we touched rock bottom during the year and it wasn't fun around here. Sometimes when you do that, it makes your team stronger, and obviously it did."

Possibly more than any other player, the feisty right winger and penalty-killing specialist has symbolized the squad's toughness, its never-quit approach, the do-whatever-it-takes-to-win mentality.

Against the Devils on April 22, while blocking a Paul Martin power-play shot, Laperriere suffered a broken orbital bone, a brain bruise, and a concussion. The Montreal native received 60 to 70 stitches above the right eye. He was told he would miss the rest of the 2010 campaign.

Instead, after receiving a neurologist's clearance, No. 14 returned for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Montreal. He played 9 minutes, 13 seconds in a 3-0 victory at the Bell Centre.

"You know what? It took a little miracle," Laperriere said after helping the Flyers take a three-games-to-one series lead. "They told me I had a chance to come back. I put [in] a lot of effort to return to the lineup. [Being out] was the worst time of my career, sitting out and watching the team doing so well.

"The good news is that since they were playing so well, it gave me some time to get healthy. I am so proud of the boys and being a part of history that we are riding right now."

Laperriere played 8 minutes and 10 seconds in Monday's series-clinching triumph over his hometown Canadiens. He blocked a pair of shots, including defenseman P.K. Subban's third-period blast with the Flyers nursing a 3-2 lead.

His second-period block brought about a "Lappy, Lappy" chant from fans at the Wachovia Center. "That was great. I'll take it," he said.

Laperriere, picked in the seventh round (158th overall) of the 1992 NHL entry draft by St. Louis, has also played for the Blues, Rangers, Kings, and Avalanche. In four seasons with Colorado, he totaled 40 goals and 72 assists.

Killing penalties. Blocking shots. Putting his body - and face - in harm's way. Those are the things that have made him a fan favorite in Philly. He was called "a heart and soul guy on our hockey team" by Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren.

In Round 1 against New Jersey, Laperriere and penalty-killing partner Blair Betts helped the Flyers snuff out 28 of 32 power plays while eliminating the Devils, four games to one.

"He's a great guy in the dressing room. He provides a lot of leadership," Betts said after his right-hand man was sidelined last month. "He's always talking to everyone, always keeping everyone focused but loose at the same time."

On Saturday night in Chicago, Laperriere, who now plays with a full face shield, will make his first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 15 NHL seasons. His take on the Flyers' being underdogs against the white-hot Blackhawks?

"We have been the underdog in every series," he said. "It's OK with us. We have a great team here and I can't wait."


Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019 or robrien@phillynews.com.