How much rest is too much rest for Kings?

We all lose our edge as the Stanley Cup playoffs go on and on.

The first-round doubleheaders and the channel surfing from TSN to CBC are long gone. The post-season stretch of consecutive days with at least one game ended on May 10. Committing to weekend afternoon games was a test. We’ve now gone four full days since the New Jersey Devils finished off the New York Rangers. It was a week ago yesterday when Phoenix Coyotes players had their on-ice tantrums – throwing sticks and barking obscenities at the officials – after being eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings.

Now that we’ve finally reached the stretch run, with the beginning of the final Wednesday night, it’s also fair to ask whether that extended break in the marathon race may have caused the Kings to lose their edge.

Perhaps it will be time, and not so much a team, that will finally slow down Los Angeles.

Yes, Los Angeles has steamrolled its way through the opening rounds with a 12-2 record and deserves to be labelled as the favourite by oddsmakers – by the Kings were a 22-1 longshot when the playoffs began – but history hasn’t been kind to teams that are idle too long long between the third and fourth round of the post-season marathon.

Since 1994, the team experiencing the longer break has won only five of the 17 finals.

In theory, it doesn’t make sense. More days off should allow injured players more time away from the ice, more time with the club’s doctors and trainers. Alternatively, the team with a shorter break should be fatigued, worn down from taking longer to eliminate its opponent in the Conference final.

There are counter-arguments, of course. Perhaps the tired team is just better and their conference was more competitive. Maybe it’s just a crazy statistical oddity: in the post Moneyball era, you can find numbers to support just about argument.

Just the same, with a success rate of only 29 per cent, there likely are some compelling mental and physical reasons why the more rested team can’t close the deal.

At the risk of re-visiting some bad memories for Ottawa Senators fans, this city’s NHL fans tasted that bitterness in 2007. Like the Kings this year, the Senators were barely tested in the opening three rounds, producing a sparkling 12-3 record. Then came the agonizing wait of eight full days off before playing the Anaheim Ducks.

It seemed perfectly logical to give players several full days away from the rink, but in retrospect, did too much down time lead to swollen heads? Time to hear and read how good they were? Goaltender Ray Emery, so sharp against Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo, was merely average against Anaheim. When the games started anew, the Senators big line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley couldn’t skate through a wall of Ducks checkers.

In the lead up to the final, Bryan Murray, then Senators head coach, tried to manipulate game action through scrimmages. It’s hardly a substitute for the real thing. Even if the Senators had a defenceman who could hit and intimidate like Chris Pronger, he wouldn’t have been crosschecking Dany Heatley in the back or elbowing Dean McAmmond in the head during tune-ups for a final series.

Again, maybe the Senators simply just didn’t have the players to match up against the harder, tougher Ducks – ultimately, the embarrassing five-game defeat resulted in John Muckler being fired as general manager – but part of the issue was also about the difficulty of the Senators jumping back on a moving train. For comparison’s sake, Anaheim had five days off after beating Detroit in six games in the Western final.

The Senators lost the opening two games in 2007. In 2006, the Edmonton Oilers, who had eight days off between theirWestern Conference triumph and the start of the final against the Carolina Hurricanes, also lost the first two games, before losing the series in seven games. After an 11-day break between Western final and Stanley Cup final in 2003, the Anaheim Ducks, with Murray serving as general manager, also dropped the first two games against New Jersey. The Devils also won in seven games. That Devils team should have been at a disadvantage after – sorry, another tough moment for Senators fans coming – being stretched to the final minutes of the third period of the seventh game of the Eastern Conference final against Ottawa.

Naturally, the Kings insist the week long layoff isn’t an issue. The Senators, Oilers and Ducks all said rust wouldn’t be an issue, either.

It’s hard to bet against the Kings, considering they haven’t done much wrong in the past seven weeks, including that unblemished 8-0 road record they’ll put on the line while opening the series in New Jersey.

If they do win at the outset and take the series, however, they will be beating the odds.

COYOTES OFF THE HOOK? A week has passed since the Coyotes childish meltdown following their Game 5 overtime loss to the Kings, so the NHL has likely opted to let sleeping desert dogs lie, opting not to levy any supplementary discipline. The officials probably should have called a penalty on Dustin Brown for kneeing Michael Roszival seconds before the game winner, but that’s not why the Coyotes lost the series. They lost because they were thoroughly outplayed in the opening three games of the series, leaving no margin for error (either by themselves or the officials). Stick throwing and chasing officials is embarrassing for the NHL and sends a terrible message. Imagine the outcry if a kid in minor hockey did that?

 

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