Re­cov­ery and rest can wait

Get­ting to the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal af­ter a gru­el­ing sea­son means play­ers will gut it out.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - HE­LENE EL­LIOTT

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.

he­lene.el­liott@la­times.com Twit­ter: @he­le­nenothe­len

Bruce Bennett Getty Images

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.

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