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

It was the 2nd night of a back-to-back and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 10th video game in 18 days and the safeguarding Stanley Cup champs simply didn’t have it.

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

Tiredness has actually embeded in around the NHL with groups playing 50 video games in simply over 100 days as part of a condensed schedule that’s showing much more requiring than gamers anticipated. The 56-game schedule squeezed in between mid-January and mid-May has actually taken its toll, resulting in lots of psychological errors and wear-and-tear injuries for those gutting through the grind.

In the nick of time for the playoffs, too.

“We’re just trying to dig deep here,” Vegas forward Alex Tuch stated. “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.”

Getting there has been the hard part.

“We can all concur it’s been quite strenuous,” Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “Every team’s going through it. We knew going in that it was going to 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 just about every team in the league, 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 more and more 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 well 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 very good about trying to stay fresh and trying to stay 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, hey, 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 and keep ourselves fresh, have morning skates and reinforce our team structure in games in video.”

Some of the grind is 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 there are so many games in such a short period of time. Washington defenseman Zdeno Chara is one of them, and he said his wife and kids staying back in Boston has been the toughest part of his season.

“I think we’re trying to do our best with the technology we have available these days,” Chara stated. “Clearly with the FaceTime and phone innovation, you can be in touch daily. It’s various not being with them in your home. Those are the sacrifices we spoke about prior to I made that choice (to check in Washington), therefore far it’s been working.”

After some fits and starts and balancing of the schedule, the NHL has actually worked all right to make it through its season throughout the pandemic. While there are concerns ahead about how to deal with the 4 Canadian groups that make the playoffs and prospective border issues, gamers and coaches are thankful they have actually had the ability to make it through the season.

“We’re happy to do it,” Brind’Amour stated. “The alternative is worse: not playing. You’ve just got to make do with it.”

___

AP Hockey Author John Wawrow contributed.

___

Follow AP Hockey Author Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.