Gregory Campbell and hockey’s unending need for symbolic inspiration

"A man is just flesh and blood and can be ignored or destroyed. But as a symbol... as a symbol, I can be incorruptible, everlasting." -- Bruce Wayne.

BOSTON – The Boston Bruins are a franchise drenched in symbolism. The spoked-B for unity. The ferocious bear. The flags waved and passed around in the pregame. The fist-pump from the anthem singer. The novelty jackets handed out to playoff heroes. The ribbons on uniforms.

It was inevitable Gregory Campbell, or rather his broken right fibula, would become another one, after the Bruins forward stood on his busted buttress and finished killing a Pittsburgh Penguins power play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Not just because it was an unforgettable moment of valor from a grunt in the lineup -- the kind whose limited minutes are designed to inspire -- but because it’s the epitome of what hockey players are supposed to embody.

“It might sound naïve of me, but I was just trying to do whatever I could to kill the penalty,” said Campbell on Tuesday, crutches by his side.

“There are a lot of guys that play through pain. I don’t see myself as different than anybody else in this League,” he said. “I was just trying to finish the play. Do my job.”

So Campbell, like Nathan Horton before him in 2011, has become the broken body the Bruins have rallied around – a player who had his playoff dream ended abruptly, but whose spirit continues to motivate his teammates.

“I think same thing, a couple of years ago happened to [Nathan Horton] and every time that someone goes down you always want to play for that player. Right now, Soupy, we know he’s done everything he did to help us get to where we’re at and we always want to make sure that it wasn’t for nothing. So, you want to leave it out there and make sure you give it everything,” said Daniel Paille, Campbell’s former linemate who scored the opening goal in their Game 3 victory.

Campbell gave it everything on that penalty kill in the second period of Game 3, blocking a Evgeni Malkin shot and then helping to stop the Penguins’ power play with 3:36 left in the frame:

“I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that I knew it was broken. But I felt like it was a different feeling. I had blocked a few shots before, and this was a different feeling. When I got back to my feet, I wasn’t positive, but I knew there was something wrong,” said Campbell.

“I don’t have X-Ray vision, so I didn’t know at the time for sure.”

He’s watched the play several times since then, seeing how he finished the shift and then went to the bench in pain. It was one of the most indelible moments of the postseason.

In the process, he became a living example of the ideals of Bruins hockey, at least to Cambpell.

“This is an original six organization. It kind of represents the city: blue-collar, hard-working city, honest people. When I traded to Boston, I thought it was tailor made for my game. This team exemplifies the heart and soul of what a hockey player should be made of,” he said.

Coach Claude Julien agreed: “I think he exemplifies a lot of what we're all about. I've said it before. We take pride in being a blue-collar team. We don't care about calling certain guys superstars on our team. We all want to be on the same level.”

When Horton was injured in 2011, the impact was greater: He was a top line player and a playoff hero to that point, before Aaron Rome’s Game 3 hit knocked him out and out of the Stanley Cup Final.

Despite his concussion, Horton was a visible part of the Bruins Cup run, including the infamous “dirty water pouring” before Game 7 in Vancouver. Campbell doesn’t intend to do the same bit, but learned more about Horton’s experiences during their Cup run through his own injury.

“Now I can relate to how hard it was for him … when I say not to be a part of it, I mean physically. He’s one of the main reasons we did what we did in 2011,” he said.

“It’s a huge test of your character to sit on the sidelines. Actually harder to watch than to play, because you don’t have any control over it.”

Like Horton, Campbell is now symbolic of the Bruins’ playoff run this year. As of now, the most memorable image features him finishing a play with a broken leg. Two more wins, and the most memorable image might be Campbell raising the Stanley Cup on a mending bone, surrounded by the teammates he’s inspired.

“It was a great relief that they still recognize me and that I’m still part of the team,” said Campbell.

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