It’s been a long trek from training camp to this point for the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Each team has played more than 100 games in the trek to the Stanley Cup Final. Each team has gone through at least one seven-game series. Each team has players who are probably fighting some fatigue, some little injuries and perhaps even some big injuries.
But there’s no lamenting the fatigue, no complaining about the pain. When you get to this point, knowing the prize that you could get in a matter of days now, you just deal with it.
“This is, at the most, three games left here to do something great,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It's pretty easy to get motivated and kind of forget about that stuff, just go out there and live in the moment, just think about the next shift, try not to look too far ahead, just take it a period at a time, give everything you have in that period, then see what happens.”
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You’re never surprised to hear a list of injuries once teams have completed their playoff runs. Most teams remain mum on any pain and suffering while they’re playing – there have been a few exceptions, from Ben Bishop missing Game 4 (and maybe Game 5) with an undisclosed injury to Bryan Bickell missing Games 1 and 2 with vertigo. Others, you suspect are injured – Tyler Johnson has taken few face-offs in recent games but said he’s fine.
But there’s no doubt: if they can grit their teeth and bear it, for a shot at the Stanley Cup, players are willing to fight through the fatigue or aches. It’s that time of the year when the mind has to trick the body into feeling well, even if it isn’t.
“At this point, it’s a mental block,” Andrew Desjardins said. “We’ve had a little bit of time here, too. Everybody knows that situation, where there are obviously things, but you’re looking toward what you’re working for and that’s what you have to do.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said the ups and downs of fighting the grind at this juncture “can be unpredictable.”
“There are definitely some swings, some good days and bad days,” he said. “Some days, you can tell going into the game, you might not have as much energy as you do other nights. Some days in practice we look like we’re not up to that pace. But some days you feel great and your team looks like it feels great and plays well.”
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Look back at the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup run and who played through what: Andrew Shaw suffered a broken rib against the Detroit Red Wings, then took a puck to the face in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins. Bickell played that Final with a knee injury. Michal Handzus had several injuries, including one to his wrist.
“It’s pretty much the same for everyone,” Marcus Kruger said. “Everyone has bruises and bumps but it’s nothing you think about now. It’s the best-of-three here and every game you’re going to find a way to get through it.”
The Blackhawks and Lightning have gotten to this point thanks mainly to their talent. Mental toughness doesn’t hurt, either. They’ve probably had some weary moments during these playoffs – please see the Blackhawks’ multi-overtime games – and they’ve likely played through pain. It may seem crazy to us bystanders but, for the Cup, they’ll play through just about anything.
“It’s a grind, it’s a challenge. It’s why they say it’s the hardest trophy in the world to win because it’s so demanding and that’s why you have to commend the players, the way they prepare and push each other and one another,” Quenneville said. “These guys find ways.”