Picture a man, an otherwise strong, athletic man, walking down a street dragging behind him a foot that was useless, a dead weight he could not feel.
That's the way Washington Capitals defenseman Calle Johansson was walking just days after he was slashed on the back of his left leg during last spring's playoffs.
It was April 27, with 10 minutes left in Game 6 against Pittsburgh, when Johansson went down as if he'd been shot. The Penguins' Shawn McEachern had whacked Johansson from behind, away from the play. Johansson fell with arms flailing, and lay writhing on the ice with his hands -- still wearing gloves -- covering his face. He rolled over onto his stomach.
"He said, 'Stan, I can't really move my leg,' " trainer Stan Wong recalled. "He was in a lot of pain."
Said Johansson the other day at training camp: "I figured it was one of those things that takes a couple of minutes, then it comes back. ...
"I'm a positive guy."
It turned out that Johansson missed the rest of the Game 6 victory and the five games in the next series against the New York Rangers that ended the Capitals' season, and returned home to Sweden with Capitals' officials wondering if he'd be coming back.
Four months later, Johansson is back at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, and he's fine. Perfectly fine. As if it never happened.
"We were hoping for a miracle," Wong said.
"It could have been a career-ending injury," said Frank Costello, the Capitals' strength and conditioning coach.
Many in the organization thought that way, but not Johansson: "I never had that thought -- never."
Johansson, 27, had an injury to the peroneal nerve, which, according to Wong, "sends electrical impulses to the lower leg and foot."
Part of what scared the Capitals and their medical personnel was the rarity of the injury. Wong, in his ninth season in Washington, had never seen it before.
"He was viciously slashed from behind," analyst Craig Loughlin said on Home Team Sports during the game, marveling that no penalty was called on McEachern.
Coach Jim Schoenfeld, incensed, had opened the bench door leading to the ice and had to be physically restrained by left wing Craig Berube.
Johansson was helped to the bench. He tried to skate a few minutes later. "He said, 'Stan, I have no idea where my skate is as far as the blade in reference to the ice,' " Wong said.
After the game, "I was thinking, 'God, it's got to come back tonight,' " Johansson recalled. "I woke up the next morning and couldn't move it -- no feeling from the knee down."
Johansson was examined by the Capitals doctors -- "They said, 'We don't know at this point. Nobody can tell with a nerve injury like that,' " Johansson said.
But quickly, in "three or four days," he regained much of the lost feeling from the knee to the ankle. Still, he said, "the foot was gone."
So Johansson saw a specialist in New York during the Rangers series: "When the nerve expert told me that hopefully it's going to come back, I said: 'Ohhh, hold on a minute. What's going on here?' "
Johansson had Drop Foot Syndrome, which occurs when one's foot drops limp. "You have to lift your toes to walk," Wong said in explaining the condition.
" ... He looked normal until you could watch his feet -- one was always dropping. And it would make like a clippity-clop, like a horse galloping on a cobblestone street."
Johansson stayed in the Washington area for two to three weeks after the Rangers series, which ended on May 9, then wanted to return home to Sweden during the offseason. He said Capitals doctor Stephen Haas gave him permission, but if there was no progress with his foot by the end of June, Johansson would have to come back for possible surgery.
"You still think you're going to wake up one morning and it's going to be great," Johannson said. "It just didn't happen."
Johansson rode a bike -- "He just didn't know where his leg was," Wong said -- and lifted light weights with his leg as long as it didn't hurt. Because if it hurt, it might get worse, the doctors told him.
And, Costello said, "with a lack of feeling, you can get injured and not even know you're injured."
Besides the rehabilitation, summer was the one time when he could spend a lot of time with his 4-year-old daughter, Rebecca. Johansson and his wife, Karin, also have another daughter, 8-month-old Susanna.
"You do all this stuff with your kids, and other children too, back home," Johansson said. "You want to play around, fool around, but you can't."
So he continued to work out the best he could. And he kept in touch with the team doctors and General Manager David Poile, advising them of his condition, as the end of June neared.
By the end of June, "I felt progress," Johansson said. Nothing great, but he was getting some feeling and he was "playing with the kids."
He reported that to the Capitals, so there was no need to come back for surgery. The feeling started to return more in July, he told the team, and was 85 percent healthy by the end of the month.
Then, on Aug. 12, the Capitals announced that he was 100 percent -- skating and everything. Once again, Johansson said, "I never thought about missing camp."
The National Hockey League had said all along that it was awaiting a final medical report on Johansson before suspending and/or fining Pittsburgh's McEachern. On Thursday, a league spokesman said that the "investigation into his injury hasn't been completed."
Johansson said he hasn't spoken with McEachern. "I haven't thought about it. If they want to do anything, the league is responsible for that."
Even though many have questioned McEachern's intentions, Johansson isn't one of them. And he holds no grudge. "I'm a positive guy," he said. "I try not to look negatively on things."
Like the nerve damage? "It's like it never happened," he said.