Jay Beagle knew something was wrong the instant the puck struck his left foot in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers. He’s blocked plenty of shots in his career but this time the pain didn’t fade after a few minutes; instead, each time he tried to skate pain shot through his leg.
The shot came on the penalty kill by Anton Stralman early in the second period. Beagle finished the contest with 14 minutes, 59 seconds of ice time.
The end of that contest — the Rangers came back to tie the game with 7.6 seconds left in regulation then won in overtime — is one that still stung the Washington players on breakdown day. Beagle won the faceoff late in regulation on the shift that resulted in the tying goal by Brad Richards, but neither he nor his teammates could gain complete control of the puck before the Rangers did.
“I wasn’t going to leave my team a man-short in the game,” Beagle said. “You gut through it and know that the pain will be over soon and just kind of get through it. I was a little bit useless out there. I was taking 15-, 20-second shifts because it would get to the point where I couldn’t really skate.”
Even after being limited in Game 5, Beagle planned on finding a way to play in Game 6, a potential elimination game for Washington.
That day Beagle got dressed in his uniform, skates included. His teammates appreciated his dedication, but could see a pronounced limp and ultimately knew he likely wouldn’t play.
“I’m not sure what he took to get his foot in the boot. He tried walking and it just wouldn’t support him,” Troy Brouwer said. “I think he just wanted to be a part of it so badly that he was trying to push through the pain and everything. The way he was walking, the way he was feeling it, I guess you could say, it was kind of clear to the guys how it would turn out. We love the guy for trying as hard as he did.”
[Brouwer added, unprompted, that he hopes Beagle, a restricted free agent, returns to Washington next season.]
Beagle started to walk down the tunnel to the ice for warm-ups, limping as he went, when Coach Dale Hunter and head athletic trainer Greg Smith called him back. The 26-year-old Calgary native wanted to play, but he didn’t want to be a detriment to the team and understood that the best decision was for him to not take part.
“Unfortunately it was broken in a place where you just don’t have any balance and he couldn’t skate,” General Manager George McPhee said. “But he had planned all along to play, and when he couldn’t play, he was really upset. I remember going in the locker room after, because he’s in there by himself, to tell him we were really proud of him. He tried. He gave us everything.”
Beagle had surgery the day after Game 6 to put pins in his ankle, ending his season. He was on crutches when he spoke to reporters on breakdown day but Beagle said he can start working out again in four to six weeks. He expects to be skating again in eight to 10 weeks and ready for training camp.
The Capitals hold Beagle’s negotiating rights and there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t want to bring the hard-working center (and playoff diarist) back into the fold.
For Beagle, there’s no place he wants to play more than Washington. He hopes everything he went through this season -- earning a roster spot out of camp, suffering a concussion that sidelined him for 2 ½ months, taking on a prominent role as a shutdown center anchoring the third line upon recovering from that injury – makes him a better all around player.
“It’s been a roller coaster. It didn’t start the way I wanted it to and it didn’t end the way I wanted it to, that’s hockey,” Beagle said. “Injuries happen and hopefully it will make me stronger as a player and as a person. You really appreciate the good times when they happen once you’ve gone through some adversity. I’m looking forward to next year already. It’s exciting to think about the potential we have and I’m looking forward to it.”