Lightning coach Guy Boucher said coaches made it pretty clear to players after Sunday's 3-2 overtime victory over Washington that they didn't want to see them at all on Monday's much-needed day off.
But Tampa Bay's break will be brief, as it hosts Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals tonight and Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum. Considering the Lightning is coming off a seven-game series with the Penguins and is in a stretch of seven games in 12 days, Boucher acknowledged it'll be a "very difficult" challenge to cull the energy on back-to-back days.
"Rest is a weapon, and it's something we need," Boucher said. "It's been very, very tough for us. I'll be honest, guys gave everything they had (Sunday), and it was about time we scored that goal, because I don't think we could have gone another period like that."
While the Capitals won their first-round series over the Rangers in five games, giving them almost a week to rest, Tampa Bay had one day between rounds and got back home about 2:30 a.m. Monday.
"You could feel it, myself personally, you could feel it throughout (Sunday's) game," said center Steven Stamkos, who was recently named to Men's Fitness' 25 Fittest Guys in the World. "The legs were getting a little heavy, but we found a way, and that's all that matters."
Boucher has tried to manage the situation, with the team likely not practicing as much throughout the series; the team doesn't often hold morning skates as it is. Boucher has players on shorter shifts during games, including late in the Penguins series, going down at times from 35 to 40 seconds to 15- to 20-second bursts.
But that doesn't help veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson, 41, who has played nearly every second of the team's first nine playoff games and been spectacular. Boucher doesn't plan to rest Roloson for either of the home games the next couple of days, saying he wants to stick with the hot goaltender and pointing out how well he takes care of himself off the ice.
Roloson has started on back-to-back days five times this season, losing six of the 10 games, including allowing five goals on 23 shots in an 8-1 loss to the Penguins after a shutout of the Capitals the day before.
"I never look at his age because if you look at his shape, he's in the top two in terms of health, shape and conditioning on the team," Boucher said. "So I'm going to be scared of a lot more guys before him."
Several players said it's important to take advantage of the rare days off, with defenseman Brett Clark pointing out they need to avoid distractions and remain focused.
Center Nate Thompson said that, in the playoffs, adrenaline can help players get through it, but they can't let the emotions and sold-out crowds get the better of them.
But Stamkos puts it best:
"As long as you can walk, you're going to play."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.