Working overtime: Extra hockey may take its toll on players
After the Washington Capitals lost a double-overtime heartbreaker in the first round, Brooks Orpik just wanted to eat some food and go home to sleep.
A playoff veteran, Orpik knew it would be better to get another workout in and take care of his 36-year-old body before leaving the arena.
”You get mentally fatigued, as well, the longer you play,” Orpik said. ”Sometimes that can have a carry-over, I think. Everybody’s in such good shape physically I think you can get through it. I think the mental effect is probably a little bit bigger.”
Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher likes to say that rest is a weapon, and it certainly applies to handling the aftermath of overtime hockey. And there has been a lot of that so far in the 2017 postseason.
A record 18 games went to overtime in the first round with at least one in every series. The effects will vary drastically, from teams like the Capitals and Senators that have played more than 40 extra minutes to the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks, which finished off their opponents in sweeps.
Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf called the opening series against the Boston Bruins (four overtimes) the toughest he has ever been through. His general manager, Pierre Dorion, isn’t concerned.
”I think we have enough depth that we’ll be able to sustain however long we go,” Dorion said as the Senators prepared to face the New York Rangers. ”I think there’s been so many overtimes this year that every team is going through it.”
Maybe not. The Pittsburgh Penguins went to overtime just once in knocking out the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games. Washington, the Penguins’ second-round opponent, played the most OT (46:20) and total (406:20) minutes of any team that advanced.
”Pittsburgh is probably sitting there and they probably loved that we were playing overtime every game,” Orpik said.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin expects his team to be rested and ready even though they’ve played almost 100 more minutes than the Penguins. There’s something to be said for experiencing the intensity and pressure of playoff overtime, but the buildup of extra minutes can be a factor.
”I think it could go either way,” Penguins center Matt Cullen said. ”I would expect, knowing the personnel on both teams, both teams will be ready to play and both teams will be fresh.”
Hockey players live for this time of year, so being physically fresh isn’t the problem. Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson played 182:23 with two microfractures in his foot and Washington’s Braden Holtby saw the most shots and spent the most time on the ice of any goaltender in the first round, and they’re ready to roll.
Capitals teammate Matt Niskanen, who played a team-high 156:31 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, also brushed off the avalanche of overtime games with a wry smile.
”Sure,” Niskanen said. ”Or we’re in great shape. Maybe we’re just getting in shape, I don’t know. Whatever. It is what it is. You’ve got to win, so it’s not like you’re throwing up the white flag just because you’ve played a little too long.”
Winning in overtime is one way to get over the fatigue, but sometimes it doesn’t help. Last year, the Predators won a triple-overtime game against the San Jose Sharks but were gassed the rest of their series and lost in seven.
Knowing the tiredness is coming is half the battle.
”It’s hard on the body, but that’s part of the playoffs,” Edmonton Oilers Game 5 overtime hero David Desharnais said. ”We’ve got days in between to recover.”
Oilers coach Todd McLellan simplified it. Playoff hockey is emptying the tank nightly and finding ways to recharge. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan credited adrenaline for players getting through.
Then there’s the science of it, and Orpik said managing nutrition and sleep can make a difference. Also maybe skating less between games to give tired legs a rest.
”For the guys who play a lot more minutes, they have to do a lot better job at making sure that they’re not staying out on the ice too long and going hard in practice,” Capitals center Jay Beagle said. ”But everyone, we’re professional. We know what to do to make sure that we feel our best.”
AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee and Will Graves in Pittsburgh and The Canadian Press contributed.
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