You can picture the Dallas Stars huddled up somewhere inside the bubble cheering for endless overtime and for the New York Islanders to extend the Eastern Conference Final to the limit.
Go deep. Go long.
Double overtime? Even better.
Jordan Eberle scores for Islanders to send the series to Game 6 after 92:30 of hockey? Outstanding.
The Stars were going to go into the Stanley Cup Final with one extra day of rest than the Eastern Conference champions, regardless, by winning the Western Conference Final on Monday. But the Islanders made sure Dallas would have minimum three days rest with the double-OT win.
With the league sticking to the plan of a game every second night the rest of the way, the East champions will have to play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final less than 45-hours from winning their way in.
Understand that Dallas is a team with some older, veteran players. They need their rest.
Joe Pavelski is 36. Corey Perry is 35. Alexander Radulov, Roman Polak, Andrej Sekera, Blake Comeau and Anton Khudobin are all 34. Andrew Cogliano and Martin Hanzel are 33.
“I consider us to be an older team and I think when you have guys who have been in the league for so long — and a lot of us haven’t won a Stanley Cup before — you realize how hard it is,” said Comeau.
A member of six NHL teams, including the Calgary Flames, during his career, Comeau said the extra time may be extra important not just for the rest but to take a deep breath and hit the reset button reminding each other how close they now are to finally seizing the ultimate moment of a hockey player’s career.
“We have a lot of guys on this team who have played a long time and haven’t had this opportunity. I’ve been in the league for 14 years, I’ve never been to the final. And you just never know if you’re going to get another opportunity like this. Our approach is just that. We may never have another chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
There’s also Khudobin, a back-up goalie who wasn’t used to playing other than the second game of back-to-back situations. Since starter Ben Bishop went down, Khudobin had to carry the entire load and has so far taken the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final. You definitely have to figure he needed the break.
The Stars were slow to embrace bubble hockey, but Khudobin helped light their fire.
And, boy did they need him in the Western Conference Final. Dallas only scored nine goals against Vegas after averaging 3.5 versus Calgary and 4.0 versus Colorado. He had a 1.69 goal-against average versus the Golden Knights with a phenomenal .950 save percentage.
To me, the story line with the Stars involves their defencemen Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell and Roman Polak and the number of minutes they’ve been able to log. They ranked 1-2-4 in terms of most minutes played when they sealed the deal on Monday.
Heiskanen will go into the Stanley Cup Final having logged 539:54, Lindell 512:01 and Polak 472:46.
They have to be tired.
The Dallas D has been A-plus offensively, providing 53 points so far in the playoffs and reminding people of the 1999 Stanley Cup-winning Dallas defence that produced 46 points. Sergei Zubov led the way on that team with 13 points. Heiskanen has 22.
“It’s great to have a couple of extra days off and get well rested before the finals start,” said Heiskanen.
There’s going to be no rest-versus-rust debate in this one. After going six against the Calgary Flames and seven against the Colorado Avalanche, putting away the Vegas Golden Knights in five was almost mandatory for Dallas — especially with the expectation of Tampa Bay having three straight 4-1 series wins taking a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 with the Islanders. The Lightning, it should be noted however, were involved in the fourth-longest game in Stanley Cup history earlier in the playoffs.
Going into Game 6 Thursday, the Stars and Lightning excelled in dealing with the wear and tear of one-goal games, Dallas going 10-1 and Tampa 9-2. The Islanders were 4-6.
“For us, the rest is important. We are banged up. There’s no question about that. I know there’s no travel and that certainly helps but when you play this many games, you’ll definitely take the rest,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness.
“We have to take advantage of these few days,” added the coach who gave his team Tuesday off to go golfing, held a practice Wednesday and had an off-ice session Thursday. “We had a plan if we played Thursday. We have a plan if we play Saturday and we have a plan if we play Monday.”
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