— Sports

‘Everybody’s tired’ as condensed NHL schedule takes its toll

It was the second night of a back-to-back and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 10th game in 18 days, and the defending Stanley Cup champions didn’t have it.

“Everybody’s tired,” coach Jon Cooper said after that loss to Carolina. “Not just our team – all the teams.”

Fatigue has set in around the NHL, with teams playing 50 games in just over 100 days as part of a condensed schedule proving even more demanding than players expected. The 56-game program squeezed between mid-January and mid-May has taken its toll, leading to plenty of mental mistakes and wear-and-tear injuries for those gutting through the grind.

Just in time for the playoffs, too.

“We’re just trying to dig deep here,” Vegas forward Alex Tuch said. “We’re just trying to prepare physically and mentally for each game, and the more you take it game by game, the better it is.”

The teams in playoff contention all have a handful of games left before the postseason, which is just the trick for igniting energy levels for even the most worn-out and banged-up veterans. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour is glad “there’s a finish line now.”

NHL schedule

Getting there has been the hard part.

“We can all agree it’s been pretty tiring,” Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “Every team’s going through it. We knew going in that it would be a bit of a grind of a season, and we’ve stayed with it.” Not without some stumbles along the way. Virus-related postponements mangled the schedule of almost every league team, including Vancouver, which missed more than two weeks and still has nine games to play through May 19. The rest of the NHL will be into the first round of playoffs by then, which is close enough to taste now. New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz likened it to running a marathon and getting to that final turn.

We are getting increasingly excited for (the playoffs), and I feel that helps us,” Minnesota’s Kevin Fiala said. Contenders are hoping to get healthy by the playoffs. Tampa Bay expects to get Steven Stamkos back from his injury, and 2019 MVP Nikita Kucherov could be ready to go by Game 1 after missing the entire regular season following hip surgery. Washington has been without Alex Ovechkin for all but 39 seconds for over a week.

Pittsburgh just got Evgeni Malkin back from a six-week absence. Florida has had a laundry list of injuries and still managed to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in five years.“Guys have been excellent about trying to stay fresh and staying rested,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We try to manage our ice time as best we can as opposed to going to practice on a day where we know that there’s not a lot of excitement in going and putting our skates back on. We’ve elected the latter half of the schedule here to have some days off, keep ourselves fresh, have morning skates,, and reinforce our team structure in games in the video.”

Some of the grinds are mental, and it’s especially challenging for the many players who left family back home because the season started so late, travel restrictions are in place, and so many games in such a short period. Washington defenseman Zdeno Chara is one of them, and he said his wife and kids staying back in Boston had been the most challenging part of his season.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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