Breakup day is, by far, the most revealing day of the NHL season.
It is the day players, coaches and general managers strip away the rhetoric and tell it like it is. And it is the day for revealing injuries.
When the Capitals had theirs a few weeks ago, center Eric Fehr said hip and shoulder injuries kept him from the lineup, while defenseman Brooks Orpik revealed he missed a game because of a “stupid” mistake in the weight room.
Those were miniscule admissions compared to what Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello revealed on Monday when he told reporters he missed the second and third rounds of the playoffs with a brain contusion and hairline fracture of his skull.
Zuccarello suffered the injuries when he was struck in the head by a shot from Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh in the fifth and final game of the Rangers’ first-round series against the Penguins.
“I was in the hospital for three days,” Zuccarello said. “I couldn't talk for a while. Just had a contusion, some blood in my brain. That affects a lot. Now I go to speech therapy. I'm getting much better. I couldn't say a word for four days. I feel much better.
“I had a small fracture in my head. I lost my talking and some feeling in my arm and stuff.”
With that in mind, you can only imagine the emotions that ran through McDonagh when he visited Zuccarello at a New York hospital after the game.
“I went with the doctor to see him and it was not a very good sight,” McDonagh recalled. “You don’t want to see your teammate in a hospital bed and wires going every which way making sure that he is OK. We wanted to try and communicate with him, but it was a challenge for him. Tough to see a very close friend and a big part of the team go down that way.”
During the Rangers’ second-round series against the Capitals, Zuccarello was shown on the massive video scoreboard above the ice and waved to the cheering crowd. Now, those fans know just how serious his injury was, even for a hockey player.
“There was a small chance I might play more this year, probably not,” he said. “Obviously, I wish I could play in the Finals, but all you have to think about is the next season.”
The Rangers were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 on Friday night and Zuccarello said all thoughts on a return have now been pushed to September.
“There's no reason to speculate that now,” Zuccarello said of the possibility of him playing in the Stanley Cup Final. “… I couldn't talk. I lost everything. It was scary, but the doctors were really good and made sure I knew that I was going to be healthy. After a while I was just happy to recover quickly.”