Penguins center Max Talbot sat out Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final against Philadelphia last night at Mellon Arena because of his broken right foot, but he still managed to be involved.
At least a little.
He and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury have developed a routine they go through in the runway leading from the locker room to the ice before each period, and the injury that has caused Talbot to sit out the past three games hasn't forced him to abandon it.
"I asked him if he could come down still," Fleury said.
And Talbot never considered declining.
"If we stop doing it, we might lose," he said, smiling. "So we have to keep it up."
As the Penguins prepare to go on the ice, Talbot and Fleury exchange slaps to the head and shoulders along with verbal admonitions in an effort to get each other psyched up for the challenges ahead.
"We just kind of box, or something," Talbot said. "Hit each other a little bit, 'Let's go, be ready.' We talk a little bit."
Their ritual dates to around the time Fleury returned from his high ankle sprain and, to this point, there haven't been any inadvertently powerful blows landed. And at least one of them isn't particularly worried about the possibility.
"I've got a mask on," Fleury said. "So it's pretty good."
It's impossible to measure the on-ice impact of Philadelphia losing defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who is expected to miss the series because of a blood clot in his left ankle.
Timonen, after all, is the Flyers' best defenseman, and an integral part of every aspect of their game.
Assessing the intangible impact of his absence is equally difficult, although it won't necessarily be negative. There are numerous precedents for teams that have lost key players to use that adversity as a rallying point.
The Penguins, for example, did it in the second round in 1992, when Mario Lemieux (hand) and Joe Mullen (knee) were injured in Game 2 against the New York Rangers. The Penguins lost that game and the one that followed [in overtime], then ran off 11 consecutive victories en route to their second Stanley Cup.
These Penguins haven't experienced anything like that during the playoffs, but did go through some big-time adversity in the regular season and did not allow it to sabotage their hopes of contending for a championship.
Which is why they realize it would be a mistake to expect the Flyers to view Timonen's loss as a mortal blow to their chances of winning the series.
"This year, when we lost [Sidney Crosby], I think a lot of people thought we'd go in the tank, [and asked] could we play .500 hockey until he comes back," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "Certainly, we missed him, but, at the same time, everyone pulled together, did their job a little bit tighter and won a lot of hockey games.
"I think it's the same thing for [the Flyers]. They lost their best all-around defenseman, but they still have plenty of pieces in place who do a little bit of everything."
Philadelphia is not shy about going to the net -- vigorously and often -- so Fleury has been braced to face a lot more traffic than he had to deal with against Ottawa or the New York Rangers in the previous two rounds.
"I watched the Montreal games [against Philadelphia during Round 2], and that's what [the Flyers] did," he said. "Put lots of pucks on the net and get guys there. They did that all year long."
The problems that causes for a goaltender are easy to understand, and having defensemen who clear bodies from around the net can be a big help.
"You just try to find the puck, see where it's at," Fleury said. "Sometimes, that's tougher when there are people [around the crease]. My defense has been great about pushing guys out, letting me see the puck."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .