The long wait will soon be over
BOSTON -- There is the calm before the storm, and then there is the tedium before the storm.
The Bruins last took the ice in a meaningful way on May 6, when they pounded the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 to complete a second-round series sweep. The Lightning? They were done with their four-game sweep against Washington two days earlier.
Bing, bang, boom. Skate your tail off and then nothing.
Waiting. Skating. Waiting.
"I learned two new languages. Russian and Chinese," Tampa forward Dominic Moore said. "I'm just kidding."
We're glad he added that because we might have believed him.
OK, now we're just kidding. It just seems like it's been that long.
On Saturday night, the waiting comes to an end with the start of the Eastern Conference finals, and one wonders just how these two teams will be able to find that emotional pitch necessary for survival in the postseason. Or, more to the point, which team will find it first.
"That first period is going to be a shock for everybody," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said after his team went through a high-tempo practice at TD Garden on Friday after jetting in from Tampa.
"Both teams are going through the same thing," Boston tough guy Shawn Thornton said. "It was good to get some rest. Nobody has an advantage here, so it doesn't really matter. Just show up Saturday and be ready to play. If you're mentally strong, it shouldn't be a problem."
We often say of teams that stumble into the postseason that there is no "on/off" switch for playoff hockey. But what happens when the "pause" switch is thrown in the middle of the proceedings?
Think the San Jose Sharks will have to worry about finding emotion when they take the ice in Vancouver on Sunday for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals? Legs? Maybe. Emotion? Not likely. Even the Canucks, idle since Monday night of this week, won't be far removed from the emotion of eliminating pesky Nashville.
But the Lightning and Bruins have been trying to walk that thin line between staying in playoff mode and checking out completely for days now.
"I went to a [Red] Sox game, an afternoon game. I get to do that a lot anyways, but we had a little break so I could indulge a little more, I guess," Thornton said. "A lot of couch time, a lot of hanging out at home. We were gone a lot in the first two rounds, so just caught up with the wife."
Boston defenseman Andrew Ference enjoyed a rare Mother's Day at home.
"I helped my wife a lot, she liked that. Mother's Day even. That was a big one for us for the wives. They were pleased," Ference said. "Did a couple of kids' birthday parties, school functions. That's my life. I'm probably not as exciting as a couple of the younger guys, but that's my away time that I usually don't get during the season."
So, did he do the cooking on Mother's Day?
"With help the kids, we did breakfast in bed, some killer pancakes."
Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier recalled a similar pattern of play and rest during the team's run to the 2004 Stanley Cup.
"Yeah, it was great," he said. "I remember in '04, after the first round, we had nine days off. Then, after the second round against Montreal, we had 10 days off. I mean, I think it's great just to kind of get away."
This time around, Lecavalier said he appreciated the break after the sweep of the Capitals.
"Coach gave us three days off. It was nice just to get away," said Lecavalier, who leads the NHL with three game-winning goals this spring. "I'm not going to say not think about it, you do think about it; but just to get away with your families, don't skate, don't think about anything."
And therein lies the challenge for Boston coach Claude Julien Bruins and rookie bench boss Boucher. How much is too much time away from the rink? How much energy spent in the middle of a long wait is wasted energy?
Julien said he wanted his players to take time away from the game, but that wasn't the same for the coaching staff.
"I think for us, we don't have really a chance to sit back and relax," Julien said. "Everything we did from the time we finished was to stay on top of other games, and at the same time, Tampa was done before we were, so we knew who we were preparing for. We just started working from that day on. Maybe the hours weren't as long as they normally would be, but every day our head was in the upcoming series."
The last time the Bruins had a lengthy break after a playoff series was two years ago; after sweeping Montreal, they had to wait for Carolina to finish off a long series against New Jersey. The Canes, although weary, ended up knocking off the Bruins in overtime in Game 7. The key for the Bruins' coaching staff in the past week was to have things prepared for the players when they returned from their time away. On Thursday, for instance, the Bruins worked on grinding and battling drills; then, Julien went for a more up-tempo practice Friday.
"We've been trying to keep our guys as sharp as we can," Julien said. "Part of that is making sure we prepare the practices accordingly, and the other share of it belongs to them. They've got to be mentally ready to do those kinds of things and to execute well. I think the guys have really been good about that, and they've done a good job."
Boucher, meanwhile, tried to have his workouts this week build toward Saturday evening in terms of physicality and competitiveness. Steven Stamkos said Friday he thought the team's final workout was the best of the week for the Lightning.
Whether it is enough won't be known until Saturday night.
"When the game starts tomorrow, it's a whole new reality and we're aware of that," Boucher said.
Amen to that.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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