According to the official statistics, Tomas Sandstrom contributed only a first-period assist to the Kings’ 5-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers Friday night in Game 5 of their Smythe Division final playoff series.
Sandstrom, though, gave the Kings much more than that.
“He motivated everybody, the way he played,” Wayne Gretzky said. “I can’t say enough about him. He’s as tough as they come. I don’t know if I’ve met anybody as tough. Anybody else would probably be in a cast.”
A right wing who skates on the Kings’ No. 1 line with Gretzky and Tony Granato, Sandstrom was thought to be out of the series after breaking a bone above his right knee last Saturday night in Game 2.
But he resumed skating Wednesday and was cleared to play by team physician Steve Lombardo, who re-examined him between periods.
“I don’t know how to really put it into words,” goaltender Kelly Hrudey said. “He’s going out and sacrificing his body. Seeing that guy going out there, knowing he has a broken bone, that’s mind-boggling.”
Not to Sandstrom, apparently.
“A professional athlete has to play,” the self-effacing Swede said. “I was ready to play and the doctor said I could play. You have to play through pain. My leg is not that sore. It’s a bad thing that it came out in the paper that it was a broken leg. It’s just a little fracture.”
Sandstrom said he awoke on Tuesday and was free of pain.
After the game, Sandstrom’s knee was sore, “but considering the magnitude of the injury he had, he’s doing well,” Lombardo said.
He said that Sandstrom, who played with a customized brace on his right knee, would be examined again today, but said that he expected Sandstrom to play again Sunday night in Game 6 at Edmonton.
Lombardo said that Sandstrom’s injury was in a non-vital area of the bone and that he had been “severely tested” in practice Thursday. It was determined that he could play when he skated again Friday morning and “there was no swelling and he was pain free,” Lombardo said.
Luc Robitaille, who scored the second of his three goals on a deflected shot by Sandstrom, called his teammate “Super Swede.”
“This guy’s unbelievable,” Robitaille said.
Sandstrom has a history of returning quickly from injuries.
Last season, after suffering a facial fracture, scratched cornea and bleeding in his right eye during a brawl in a game against the Oilers, he was fitted with a full-face visor and missed only two games.
In the first month of the 1987-88 season, when he was still playing for the New York Rangers, Sandstrom was viciously cross-checked in the face by Dave Brown of the Philadelphia Flyers, suffering a concussion.
Although Brown, who now plays for the Oilers, was suspended for 15 games, equaling the second-longest suspension in NHL history for a player altercation, Sandstrom didn’t miss a game.
Still, his latest comeback caught his teammates by surprise.
“We didn’t expect to see him until next year,” defenseman Steve Duchesne said. “But to see him back tonight--and he played really well--it was a big inspiration. And I think we needed that. We needed a boost.”
Lombardo wasn’t surprised. “He’s a very tough individual (and) has a high threshold of pain.”