DENVER — It’s no secret that Tampa Bay has played more hockey than any other team in the NHL over the past two years.
That could — ultimately — have implications for the two-time defending champion Chargers against the Colorado Avalanche, who took a shorter route to the Stanley Cup finals and went 2-0 into a Game 3 seven-game series The best of all. Monday in Tampa.
“Caps, groins, hips, cuts, bruises, hitting every other night: that’s the price,” coach Jon Cooper said Sunday. “So when you get to the end, even though it doesn’t look like they’ve been knocked down, they’re missing some people, and we’re missing some people. We have guys that got knocked. That’s what the playoffs cost. It wasn’t last year. Things that happened.”
What happened last year was that the Chargers became the second team to win back-to-back cups since the salary cap era began in 2005. This year, they beat Toronto in seven games, swept Florida and beat the New York Rangers in six games to advance to the finals.
Since Aug. 1, 2020, Tampa Bay has played 67 postseason games — the most for a team in three postseason games. It’s all more condensed than normal as the pandemic pushes the 2020 playoffs into the summer and early fall. It makes sense for players to run out of gas.
“You play a ton of games, and the playoffs are obviously just more physicality, more stuff while you’re playing,” said three-time Cup champion Justin Williams, who will become an NHL network analyst The starter and the third game. “As of now, these guys are disappearing. Listen, they play a lot of hockey, but once you get that big in the playoffs, you’re mostly running on adrenaline right now.
“You feel good, the excuse for playing too much hockey is an excuse I’m sure they’re not ready to use right now.”
The Chargers haven’t made excuses to put themselves on the verge of becoming the NHL’s first three-peat since the New York Islanders in the early 1980s. Even after going 7-0 in Game 2 on Saturday night and looking unable to keep up with the quick avalanche, players pointed to overcoming the same disadvantage as the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals, as believing the series is not yet The close reason is over.
“We’re in the same situation,” veteran wing Cory Perry said. “We were there to find a way to win the game at the end of the third game. It reinvigorated us, got us going again, and now we’re going home.”
Avalanche has come back to life. After topping the Western Conference in the regular season, they swept Nashville in the first round, eliminated St. Louis by six points, and then swept Edmonton again, giving themselves more than a week of rest before the Stanley Cup final.
It appears to be paying dividends with fresh legs and a clearer game.
“I think it’s physics, when you rest you rest,” forward Mikko Rantanen said. “If you play for a long time every other day, it will tire you out. But they’ve been here before, they’ve played too long before, so we can’t think too much about us being a new team.”
Avalanche does look like a fresher team, which allows them to continue to put pressure on the Chargers despite being at a disadvantage in experience at this stage of the playoffs. Colorado got here by letting opponents make mistakes, a recipe that worked again in the finals.
The challenge for Tampa Bay now is figuring out how to respond to the situation it faces. At least, motivation won’t be an issue.
“There are only two teams at this time of year, and it’s the best time of year to play hockey and it’s the finals,” Perry said. “Why don’t you want to be here? Why do you just want to say ‘Hey, we play a lot of hockey. It doesn’t make sense. So we’re happy to be here. We want to be here.'”
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