TORONTO – Randy Carlyle wasn't ready to use the word as it related to the status of injured Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul.
"No that's a bad word," he said following practice on Friday. "The term concussion in today's sporting world, you want to make sure you're 100 percent sure before you start using that word."
Lupul will nonetheless miss the Leafs next game in New Jersey on Saturday, sitting out with a worrisome and to this point, undefined "day-to-day" injury. Sandwiched between the Flyers rough combination of Adam Hall and Jay Rosehill on Thursday evening, Lupul took consecutive shots to the head area, wobbling to the bench before leaving the game entirely.
The 29-year-old underwent an evaluation following the eventual 5-3 loss and claimed, according to Carlyle, to have felt "fine". He went for another examination on Friday morning and was ruled out of Saturday's action against the Devils.
"Obviously everybody saw the hit," said Carlyle. "He got squeezed out, he got dazed, and didn't feel very good so we just said we were going to send him for examination [on Friday] morning."
Stung by a string of unfortunate luck in the past year, Lupul was performing at previously unprecedented levels before this most recent injury, storming back from a 25-game absence in mid-March – arm injury – with a scorching tally of eight goals and 13 points. He had scored at least once in each of the six games before enduring the collision on Thursday.
"I don't know if you can put any more than an exclamation mark," Carlyle noted of Lupul's superb performance.
While the timeline and exact nature of the injury remains uncertain to this point, Lupul's absence for any length of time brings with it an emotional jolt to the hockey club, a loss of an elite talent and on-ice leader at a key point in the season. His presence alongside leading scorer Nazem Kadri offered the Leafs a tantalizing "one-two punch", a second potentially fearsome unit of firepower in addition to the top line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and James van Riemsdyk.
Still, they have managed in his absence previously, stringing together a sturdy 13-11-1 mark when he was sidelined for nearly two months with a fractured right forearm earlier this season. Much in line with their balanced production then, they'll need increased performance from a variety of sources while he is out.
"[Lupul] is an important piece to this puzzle," said Kadri, who leads the team with 39 points. "And definitely for us too, we've had some chemistry and that's going to be missed... [but] we've found a way for other guys to step up and take initiative and really get the job done."
"He's an impact player for us, there's no way to mask it," Carlyle added. "Right now, we have to have other people share in the responsibility that he's been shoring up for us. We need Matt Frattin to get going. JVR scores [Thursday] night, a big-time goal. It was his best game for our hockey club, statistics-wise, in the number of plays he was in on offensively so we need that to continue."
Additionally, the likes of Clarke MacArthur, likely to return from injury against the Devils, and Mikhail Grabovski, who has two goals and five points in the past 15 games, will need to emerge if Lupul is to miss any extended time. van Riemsdyk snapped a 10-game goal drought with his 15th marker against the Flyers while Frattin is still without a goal in the 11 games he's played upon his return from a knee injury.
Currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs sit five points up on the ninth-seeded Devils with 11 games to go. While they remain in firm position for their first playoff berth in nine years – following an eight-game point streak which ended in the loss to Philadelphia – they'll need to continue stringing points together to ensure their position.
Lupul, meanwhile, remains a source of puzzling luck. He has missed 41 of the past 51 games for his club dating back to last season with injuries that range from a separated shoulder to this most recent injury. Of concern, he does have a previous, albeit not extensive, history with concussions.
"We don't know what it is," Carlyle concluded, refraining from the concussion label. "Until you know exactly what it is, I don't think you should make any statements right now."