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Final 4 hoping the layoff pays off

by Mike G. Morreale

The Detroit Red Wings have had nine days off before the start of the Western Conference Finals, the longest of any remaining team.
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Coaches and players in the Stanley Cup Playoffs semifinals are certainly hoping the old adage “practice makes perfect” is taken to heart this week during the brief layoff between rounds.

On Monday, the NHL announced that the Western Conference Finals, pitting the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings and fifth-seeded Dallas Stars, would commence Thursday. The Eastern Conference Finals between the second-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins and the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers is scheduled to begin Friday.

The Penguins have played nine postseason games (8-1), the fewest of any of the remaining teams, and have earned 12 days of rest between rounds. The team has had a four-day layoff prior to playing host to the Flyers in Game 1. The Wings have played in 10 playoff contests (8-2) and have been given nine days to recuperate, including the last six -- the longest wait of any conference finalist.

“I think (the layoff) is perfect,’’ Detroit left wing Henrik Zetterberg said. “We had a few days off and didn’t have to see each other. We were able to spend a lot of time with the family while resting up and recouping the body. Now we’ve had some good practices and we’re ready to go.’’

For Dallas coach Dave Tippett, the brief respite for his team wasn’t so much about seeing family as it was about catching their breath. Dallas scored a 2-1 quadruple-overtime victory over San Jose in the series-clinching sixth game Sunday.

“We view this as a time to get some needed rest,’’ Tippett said. “We played two games in one the other night, so our group really needed a rest. With the amount of travel we do within our division and especially back and forth between Anaheim and San Jose, it is long travel. The in-between days around practice days are travel days, so to get a day where you can just catch your breath was good for all of us. We’ll head to Detroit (on Wednesday) and get ready for Thursday. I had no problem with the layoff because it gave our team a day or two to catch a breather and move forward.’’

Unlike the Stars, the Wings have had no West Coast trips in the playoffs thus far.

“I think the layoff was good for our team, actually,’’ Wings goalie Chris Osgood said. “I mean, you want to close quickly and we did that in Colorado, but you don’t want to make the same mistake we did in Nashville. We relished the time off. What happens is you get excited to play again, because you kind of get sick of practicing. We’re now ready and raring to go.’’

The Flyers (8-4) were given one off day following their seven-game elimination of the Washington Capitals in the opening round and five days off after taking down the Montreal Canadiens in conference semifinals. The Stars (8-4) went six games with both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks and have had seven days between rounds.

“It’s kind of long, but it actually might be good,’’ Flyers wing Sami Kapanen said. “Everyone is anxious to get started and, after having this many practice days, I think everyone is looking forward to the first game. It was a time to relax and get some energy back.’’

“To me,’’ Flyers coach John Stevens said, “the break gave us an opportunity to get away and get our focus back and I thought our practice (on Wednesday) was a lot sharper than on Monday. But the layoff is what it is. I think guys do want to play this time of the year, but the fact we went right from Washington to Montreal without any break and went from one intense environment to another is probably good for us. The bottom line is both (the Flyers and Penguins) are dealing with the same situation coming off a five-game series. The only difference is the fact we traveled back from Montreal, but we had enough time to make up for that and I believe we’re on even ground right now heading into the conference final.’’

The longest break in Penguins franchise history came in 1989, when they swept the New York Rangers in the opening round and had eight days off before playing Philadelphia in the second round. Those Penguins won Game 1 against the Flyers, but would eventually lose the series in seven games.

“I think physically and emotionally, having the break was good,’’ Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “After our first-round sweep (of Ottawa) it gave our players a chance to recoup physically and mentally and that’s very important in the playoffs. We know the Flyers went seven games in the first round and were able to get more time off after their second-round series, so I know they’ll be ready. The break was great for us because it gave us a chance to prepare for the next series and it also enabled the coaching staff to analyze the other team. I have no doubt (the Flyers and Penguins) will both be well prepared heading into this series.’’

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