Recovery and rest can wait
Getting to the Stanley Cup Final after a grueling season means players will gut it out.
They worked hard to get here, so players will play through their injuries and pain a little longer.
TAMPA, Fla. — If any members of the Tampa Bay Lightning or Chicago Blackhawks aren’t nursing bumps, bruises or something worse by now — after the six-month rehearsal of the regular season and two months of playoffs — they probably haven’t been playing much.
Some of their injuries are obvious. Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop twice pulled himself out of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, labored through Game 3 and couldn’t play in Game 4 because of an unspecified problem. He didn’t practice Friday.
Although Coach Jon Cooper said not to be alarmed by Bishop’s absence because the team planned to give him three days of rest, Cooper wasn’t sure whether Bishop would start Saturday, when the teams reconvene at Amalie Arena after splitting the first four games.
“I hope he plays,” Cooper said after the Lightning practiced at the Ice Sports Forum in nearby Brandon. “I don’t know if he’s going to. He’s got to get back on the ice. If he’s not in the pregame skate [Saturday], that’s a pretty good indication of whether he’s going to play or not.”
Other injuries are minor or hidden better. Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya played less than usual in Game 3 but was back to normal for Game 4. Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson, the top playoff scorer with 13 goals and 23 points, hasn’t taken a faceoff the last two games, igniting speculation he has a hand or wrist injury.
“I think everyone’s banged up,” said Johnson, the Lightning’s second-line center. “When you play this long — I think it’s 104 games already — you’re going to be bumped up a little bit, but it doesn’t matter right now. It’s the Stanley Cup. There’s a maximum three games left, and then you’ve got all summer to rest. You work this hard to get here. You want to win it.”
Is being banged up the reason he’s not taking faceoffs?
“No,” he said, insisting that linemate Ondrej Palat got the responsibility because Palat had been better in practice. “I’ve never been that good at faceoffs, so it’s all right.”
He probably isn’t all right, but he’d never say so. Players rarely disclose what’s bothering them, and their injuries become public only after their season ends. Case in point: when New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was playing on a broken right foot for the last four games of the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay.
This is when hockey players, known for their ability to play through pain — sometimes to their detriment — become even more stoic. It’s a case of mind over what’s the matter.
“At this point, it’s a mental block,” Blackhawks forward Andrew Desjardins said. “I think everybody knows that situation where you’re a little bruised but you’re looking towards what you’re working for, and I think that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville, a former NHL defenseman, knows that mentality. “It’s a grind. It’s a challenge,” he said. “That’s why they say it’s the hardest trophy in the world to win, because it’s so demanding.”
If Bishop can’t play Saturday, rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy will get his second straight start. He’s not as skilled a puck handler as Bishop, who’s among the best in the NHL, but he was poised in stopping 17 shots Wednesday in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 loss at Chicago. The 20-year-old Russian isn’t ready for TV close-ups — he declines on-camera interviews because he’s selfconscious about his inability to speak English well — but he’s ready for another turn in the net.
“I think I’ll have more confidence. I got some experience right now in Stanley Cup Final,” he said. “That’s it. In my head right now, mentally, I got more power right now. When you play, you get good feeling, more fun. I think next game if I play, I will feel much better.”
Tampa Bay has shown resilience in dealing with an injury to its No. 1 goaltender and No. 2 center and a lack of production from franchise center Steven Stamkos, whose only point in the Final is a secondary assist. The Lightning has kept pace with the Blackhawks by clamping down on de- fense and showing no nerves while the first four games were each decided by one goal.
The Blackhawks, pursuing their third Cup championship in six seasons, hope to use their recent playoff experience to prevail in what’s now a best-of-three series.
“Maybe a lot of other teams, a lot of other players, view this type of situation as having a lot of pressure. I think we understand the pressure and what’s at stake, what’s to lose,” center Jonathan Toews said. “There’s no better time than now to bring your best game forward and try to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
No matter how much it might hurt.
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BEN BISHOP stretches between periods in Game 2. The Tampa Bay goaltender labored through Game 3 and couldn’t play in Game 4. He might not be back for Saturday’s Game 5, after sitting out practice Friday.