LOS ANGELES -- Early in the second period Thursday in Game 3 at Staples Center, Daymond Langkow gave the Phoenix Coyotes their only lead of the Western Conference final on a long pass from defenseman Keith Yandle. It was a nice payoff for a guy whos quietly been one of the teams best postseason performers.
On the other end of that goal was defenseman Derek Morris, who made a safe pass to Yandle across the ice to set up that momentary ray of hope for Phoenix in an otherwise dismal series.
We know what you're thinking: So what? The Coyotes still lost. They still trail 3-0, with a possible season-ending game coming Sunday.
Thats all true, but an off day in Los Angeles afforded a moment to reflect on the myriad off-ice issues athletes deal with that get glossed over in a city and fan bases hunger for wins.
Six months ago, Langkow, 35, was trying to hold a family together. His mother, Vivian, had passed away suddenly at the age of 54, and his dad, Randy, was so grief-stricken that Daymond worried about his well-being.
Three months ago, Morris went home to be a full-time dad to his three sons, Traiten, Presley and Asher, and help his wife, Jodie, tend to a family member dealing with severe depression.
Neither player wants to talk about those incidents, and thats their right. Its their private life. But both have performed at a high level since returning to the lineup, and that is a remarkable fact that doesnt get enough attention.
"Theres so many things that go on that people dont know about -- sometimes even teammates dont know about, veteran defenseman Adrian Aucoin said. "Athletes are real people with a lot of average problems, and sometimes its tougher to fight through them because youre always in the media and always under the spotlight."
Langkow's mother died in early November, and the veteran center was out for eight games. He returned with a bang, notching a pair of assists in a 3-0 win over the Dallas Stars on Nov. 26.
"I didn't know what to expect. I just tried to prepare myself as best I could, and it felt good," Langkow said. "Unfortunately, it's part of life, but you have to battle through it, and I think the best way to do that is to get back with your regular routine."
Langkows regular-season stats dont jump out at you. He had 11 goals and 30 points in 73 games. But hes tied for third on the team with seven playoff points, and theres a reason for that.
"Hes just a steady player," coach Dave Tippett said. "Hes one of these guys where you dont notice him a lot out there, but he does a lot of things right in the game.
"Hes a player that can play in different roles. Two games ago, he was our fourth-line center. (Thursday) night, he was our top center. Its a credit to him to adapt to different situations, different roles that he plays, and have the ability to do them all well.
Morris, 33, took a leave of absence in February. He missed 15 games, but since his return, hes played as if he's shed five years of wear and tear. He has two goals and six points in the playoffs, hes tied for seventh in the league in blocked shots (33), hes given the Coyotes a much-needed physical presence and hes given defensive partner Keith Yandle a comfort level.
"Hes such a steadying presence for me," Yandle said recently. "Theres so much of my game that I owe to him."
Aucoin said the duos performance level in the wake of personal issues isnt surprising. Its what they expect of themselves as pro athletes.
"No matter what we go through, we still have to show up and work our hardest," he said.
In that regard, being around the team can be one of the best cures.
"All that stuff definitely takes a toll on guys, but thats when you lean on your teammates, Aucoin said. "Teammates are actually extended family. Its really important to have those guys on your side when times are hard. You always get welcomed back with open arms."
And with a heaping dose of respect.
"Both of them have handled it very well," Tippett said. "Theres going to be some ups and downs, but both of them are very good teammates and they put that distraction aside. When its time to play, they come and play well, and I think their teammates appreciate that."