Rest is beating rust so far in the NHL playoffs.
The teams that have two or more days of time off than their opponent are 5-1 in series openers. The well-rested Tampa Bay Lightning were the latest to take advantage of that, crushing the New York Islanders 8-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final and in the process taught an important lesson those teams and those in the West should try to head with the Stanley Cup final coming next.
While the Lightning had a week off after closing out Boston in five games, the Islanders let their 3-1 series lead against Philadelphia slip away before winning in seven. They won Game 7 on Saturday night, flew from Toronto to Edmonton on Sunday and were chasing the play from the start Monday night.
“They got off to a big start, big lead and we were never really able to recover,” said New York forward Matt Martin, who added it's not the time to make excuses. “This is playoff hockey. We obviously had our opportunities to end our series against Philly sooner. We didn’t.”
The Islanders only had themselves to blame for missing those opportunities to get extra rest. Each of the Western Conference finalists, the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights, can feel the same way after going up 3-1 last round and needing a Game 7 to advance.
Dallas and Vegas each played Friday, so neither team technically got more rest. But the Golden Knights got no favors from the schedule with Games 6 and 7 against Vancouver on back-to-back nights and only one day off before facing the Stars.
“We did play back to back on Thursday and Friday night and it was three in four and yes they played a Game 7, too, but they didn’t have a back-to-back situation and sometimes that takes a little bit out of you and it took us a little longer to get going,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “But I know our guys would never use that as an excuse and I’m not going to, either. I think it might have been an excuse for the first 10 minutes of the game, but we should’ve worked into our game quicker than that.”
Sometimes a bad start can be enough to affect the result of a game or a series. Three of the previous five more rested teams went on to win the series.
Trying to avoid being on the wrong end of that trend, the Islanders didn't practice Tuesday, and 2018 Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz left it up to his players to recharge. A few worked on their sticks, some played hallway soccer and others hit the gym for a workout while focused entirely on trying to come out better in Game 2.
"You don’t want to be just sulking on a loss that happened (the previous) night in a tough situation for us coming off a lot of travel," leading scorer Mathew Barzal said. “Just show up to the rink, have a smile on your face and just be energetic."
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