Stanley Cup Playoffs spring into second round

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The Colorado Avalanche found out early Friday morning they would start the Western Conference Second Round against the Dallas Stars on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

They had little time to rest and prepare after wrapping up their five-game, first-round series against the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday. The Stars had little time too. They finished their six-game, first-round series against the Calgary Flames on Thursday.

League wide, there was no day off between the first and second rounds, and the schedule will remain crisp in the second round with games every other day and back-to-back within series.  

Great. Let’s go. 

“I like starting as soon as possible, to be honest with you,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “… We’re liking the fact we don’t have too much time off in between games. I’m sure Dallas is kind of the same way. Just keep playing. It’s what we’re all here to do.”

Attitude is everything in the bubble. You’ve got to enjoy this historic experience and keep your eyes on the prize.

“We try to remind ourselves every day to embrace it,” said coach Peter DeBoer, whose Vegas Golden Knights open the second round against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. Even on the worst day in here, there’s all the hockey you could watch and all the beer you can drink, so it’s not a bad day.”

Eight teams remain of the 24 that entered this unprecedented tournament as part of the NHL Return to Play Plan after the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

This is their 28th day in what is officially called the Secure Zone. The Western Conference teams have been restricted mainly to the hotel and rink in Edmonton, the Eastern Conference teams in Toronto. The conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final will be in Edmonton.

The eventual finalists could have as many as 43 days to go. The last possible day of the Stanley Cup Final is Oct. 4.

It’s so hard to win the Stanley Cup in a normal season, we like to say it’s the hardest trophy to win in sports. It makes it that much harder when you’re living with strict health protocols in a fenced-in area, isolated from family and friends and society in general, and playing with no fans in the stands.

“The teams that go far, obviously you’ve got to have the talent, but you’ve to also have the strong mental fortitude to get through that for sure,” said coach Rick Tocchet, whose Coyotes lost to the Avalanche in the first round.

But while trying to keep everyone safe, the NHL has tried to keep everyone comfortable and entertained with everything from pop-up restaurants to food trucks to indoor lounges to outdoor activities to off-site excursions.

The teams haven’t had to travel in between cities, allowing more time and opportunity for organized bonding. The Golden Knights, for instance, have a “Fun Committee” of players who have arranged activities like poker tournaments and movie nights. They watched “Semi-Pro” in a hotel ballroom as if they were kids at summer camp.

Having fun can help you win. It’s also easier to have fun when you’re winning. Vegas is 7-1-0 in the bubble — 3-0-0 in the round-robin, 4-1 in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks.  

“I’m finding personally, and I expect likely the players are as well, there becomes a new normal,” Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “As different as it might have seemed originally for no fans there in warmup, no fans during the games, I think it’s becoming a little more normal.

“I really have seen intensity in the games, not only our own games but other series. … I think you’re going to see teams that are here to try and win a Stanley Cup. You’re going to see some really good hockey as we move along.”

Each of the eight teams remaining was in the top 17 in regular-season points percentage, and the 17th-place team, the Vancouver Canucks, was tied in points with the 15th- and 16th-place teams. In other words, the field now looks about like it usually would at this stage.

The cream has risen, and the deeper we go, the brighter the light at the end of the tunnel, shining off the silver of the Stanley Cup.

“The teams that are able to work their way through Round 2, Round 3, get to the Stanley Cup [Final], that’ll be an ongoing dynamic with this situation, just as those days continue to accumulate with how long people have been here,” McCrimmon said. “And yet, the longer you’re here, the more encouraging it is with respect to the reason that we came.”

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