The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a test of perseverance, and there weren't many players tested more recently than Chicago Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer(notes), a hero in Chicago's 5-1 victory in Game 6 to eliminate the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
In the first eight games of the playoffs, he didn't have a goal or assist and was a minus-5. That led to his being a healthy scratch in the Blackhawks' Western Conference semifinal series against the Vancouver Canucks in Games 3, 4 and 5.
The question became unavoidable: Could Brouwer still be an effective player for Chicago with the well-being of his father weighing on his mind?
According to the Vancouver Province, Don Brouwer was rushed to the hospital with a blood clot on his brain on April 4, the same night Troy scored a game-winning goal against the Calgary Flames. He underwent emergency surgery; his son missed the final four games of the regular season to be with his father, who regained consciousness in a hospital as the Blackhawks began their playoff run.
Said Brouwer to The Province, on coping with his father's recovery during the pressure-packed playoffs:
"It is tough," he said. "The first thing I do in the morning is call my mom and ask how my dad is doing. I struggled a little bit early with him and his situation. But now that I've been able to go back and see him, it's kind of given me a little release. I know he's doing well, I know he's on the right path. Just being able to talk to him really helps out a lot."
Brouwer refused to use his father's health as an excuse for his poor play, and had a chance for redemption when Coach Joel Quenneville inserted him into the lineup in Game 6 in Vancouver, where Brouwer was born.
The hunch worked.
Just under 2 minutes into the second period, the play began with a nice breakout pass to Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp(notes), who saw Troy Brouwer and Marian Hossa(notes) headed towards Roberto Luongo's(notes) net. Brouwer worked hard to get around Vancouver forward Kyle Wellwood(notes); Sharp hit him with a pass and Brouwer tipped it home on a shot that Luongo couldn't glove.
That made it 1-0 Chicago. Considering the Blackhawks had lost only once in six playoff games in which they scored first, it was enormous -- especially with Kris Versteeg(notes) riding that momentum 36 seconds later with a goal that made it 2-0.
It's understandable to sometimes view professional athletes as characters in an ongoing drama; sports are escapism, after all. For some, Brouwer's playoff disappointment was a collection of troubling zeros in the box score, because box scores don't detail the mental anguish for a 24-year-old guy with an ailing father.
If you wonder why Brouwer, who missed the last four games of the regular season to visit his ailing dad, hasn't looked like the same player in the postseason, that's a good place to start. But Brouwer got a chance to see his dad for the first time in a month last week before Games 3 and 4 and Tuesday night made the old man prouder than ever.
"Hopefully he wasn't too tired and was able to stay up and watch the entire game,'' Brouwer said.
His Game 6 performance was a testament to his perseverance, and, perhaps, a small tribute to a loved one.