Lightning may be running out of gas vs fresher Avalanche

Jun 18, 2022, 11:38 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 11:46 am
Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) looks up after a fight during the third period in G...

Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) looks up after a fight during the third period in Game 2 of the team's NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche, Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

              Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) steps over Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) during the second period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) reacts after a goal by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar during the third period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Locher)
            
              Players from the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning fight during the third period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. Among the players are Lightning's Alex Killorn (17) and Anthony Cirelli (71) and Avalanche's Artturi Lehkonen. (AP Photo/John Locher)
            
              Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) looks up after a fight during the third period in Game 2 of the team's NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche, Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Locher)
            
              Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) turns after scoring on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during the third period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Locher)

DENVER (AP) — It’s no secret Tampa Bay has played more hockey over the past two years than any other team in the NHL.

That may — finally — be taking a toll on the two-time defending champ Lightning against the Colorado Avalanche, who took a much shorter route to the Stanley Cup Final and lead the best-of-seven series 2-0 going into Game 3 on Monday in Tampa.

“The shot blocking, the groins, the hips, the cuts, the bruises, playing every second night: That’s the toll,” coach Jon Cooper said Sunday. “And so when you get to the end, even though it doesn’t look like they’re banged up, they’re missing guys, we’re missing guys. We’ve got banged-up guys. That’s what the playoff toll does. It’s not what happened last year.”

What happened last year was the Lightning became the second franchise since the salary cap era began in 2005 to win the Cup back-to-back. This year, they beat Toronto in seven games, swept Florida and advanced to the final by coming back to beat the New York Rangers in six.

Tampa Bay has played 67 postseason games since Aug. 1, 2020 — the most by one team over the span of three playoffs. Because the pandemic pushed the 2020 playoffs into the summer and early fall, it’s all condensed more than normal. It would make sense for players to run out of gas.

“You’ve played an extraordinary amount of games, and playoff games are obviously just a little bit more physical, a little bit more everything as you play them,” said three-time Cup champion Justin Williams, who’s becoming an NHL Network analyst starting with Game 3. “As of right now, these guys are fading. Listen, they’ve played a lot of hockey, but once you get this far in the playoffs, you’re running mostly on adrenaline right now.

“You feel pretty good, and an excuse to have played too much hockey is one that I’m sure that they’re not prepared to use right now.”

The Lightning didn’t put themselves on the verge of becoming the NHL’s first three-peat champion since the New York Islanders of the early 1980s by making excuses. Even after getting trounced 7-0 in Game 2 Saturday night and looking unable to keep up with the speedy Avalanche, the players pointed to overcoming this same deficit against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final as reason to believe this series isn’t close to being over.

“We’re in the same situation,” veteran winger Corey Perry said. “And we found a way to win Game 3 at the end of the game there. It rejuvenated us, it got us going again and now we’re going home.”

The Avalanche are already rejuvenated. After finishing first in the West in the regular season, they swept Nashville in the first round, took out St. Louis in six and then finished off another sweep of Edmonton to give themselves more than a week off before the start of the Stanley Cup Final.

It appears to be paying dividends with fresh legs and crisper plays.

“I think it’s physics that when you get rest you’re rested,” forward Mikko Rantanen said. “If you play every other day for a long period of time, it’s going to wear you down. But they’ve been here before, they’ve played too long seasons before, so we can’t think about that too much that we’re the fresh team.”

The Avalanche do look like the fresher team, and that has allowed them to keep up the pressure on the Lightning despite an experience disadvantage at this stage of the playoffs. Colorado got here by flustering opponents into making mistakes, and that recipe is working again in the final.

Tampa Bay’s challenge now is to figure out how to counteract the situation it’s faced with. Motivation, at least, won’t be an issue.

“This time of year there’s only two teams and this is the best time of the year to play hockey and it’s the finals,” Perry said. “Why wouldn’t you want to be here? Why would you want to just say ‘Hey, we play a lot of hockey.’ There’s no point saying that. So we’re excited to be here. We want to be here.”

___

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

___

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Retired Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt speaks during an interview in Tokyo, Thursday, Dec. 1, ...
Associated Press

Usain Bolt fires business manager over Jamaica fraud case

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt told reporters Friday that he is baffled over how $12.7 million of his money has gone missing from a local private investment firm that authorities are investigating as part of a massive fraud that began more than a decade ago. Bolt also said he has […]
15 hours ago
San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey speaks at a news conference before an NFL foot...
Associated Press

Bold trades keyed offensive jolts for 49ers, Eagles

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers got a jolt offensively when they made the bold decision in October to trade four draft picks to add Christian McCaffrey to an already deep group of playmakers. The Philadelphia Eagles made an aggressive trade of their own to supercharge their offense when they added game-breaking […]
15 hours ago
Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after defeating Tommy Paul of the U.S. in their semifinal at th...
Associated Press

Djokovic, Tsitsipas to meet in Australian Open men’s final

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Winning matches at the Australian Open does not give Novak Djokovic all that much trouble. He has a 27-match unbeaten run, the longest at the place in the 55-year Open era. And now Djokovic needs just one more victory, against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final, to collect what would be a […]
15 hours ago
FILE - Philadelphia Eagles linebackers coach Nick Rallis gestures during a preseason NFL football g...
Associated Press

Oh, brother! WWE star, Eagles coach ready for big weekend

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Mike Rallis had his younger brother draped over his shoulders and was set to dump him to the turf — as a roughhousing brother might do — when he took an abrupt blow to his ribs. In a flash, Nick Rallis was on his feet and had turned the fight around. He […]
2 days ago
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) sets up to pass during fourth quarter of an NFL footb...
Associated Press

AP Source: Tagovailoa to miss Pro Bowl, still in protocol

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol and will not participate in the 2023 Pro Bowl, a person with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced officially. Tagovailoa was diagnosed […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Michigan State players making deals in fall tunnel incident

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — At least four more Michigan State football players facing misdemeanor charges for a skirmish inside the Michigan Stadium tunnel will likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions, lawyers said Friday. “It’s going to happen outside of court,” said Max Manoogian, an attorney for Angelo […]
2 days ago
Lightning may be running out of gas vs fresher Avalanche