Avalanche, Lightning forced to reset during dream of winning Stanley Cup

But this is the part you can’t imagine — adrenaline, fatigue, pain, pressure, logistics, travel.

Everyone has worked for years to get to this point. Each team has been playing for 10 months, going back to training camp in September.

After the Lightning’s 3-2 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Ball Arena on Friday night, each team arrived at the airport Saturday morning for a 3 1/2-hour charter flight across two times zones to Tampa.

Game 6 is at Amalie Arena on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS), and all that is on the line is everything. The Avalanche lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 and can clinch a championship. The Lightning can force a Game 7 in Denver on Tuesday and stay alive in their quest for three straight titles.

“It’s supposed to be fun,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I think it’s easier for some guys to just enjoy it than others, because it is, like, I mean … I know how much our guys want it and how hard they’ve worked for it, so there’s a certain amount of stress and anxiety that you have to try to put out of your head so you can bring the best performance, and everyone handles that differently.”

After Colorado won 3-2 in overtime in Game 4 and took a 3-1 series lead Wednesday, each team flew 3 1/2 hours across two time zones to Denver on Thursday. As teams normally do when within a win of a championship, the Avalanche prepared for the potential party.

Defenseman Josh Manson said he didn’t have time to unpack everything, and not only did he have his wife and daughter for whom to care, he had his parents and in-laws too. After the loss Friday, he had to come home and pack while his family members booked their own travel to Tampa.

“There’s a lot you’ve got to deal with,” Manson said.

That includes, Manson said, “just trying to shut the body down and look after that the best you can, because I think that’s the most important thing, mental and physical.”


[RELATED: Stanley Cup Final coverage | Stanley Cup Final schedule]


Easier said than done. Win or lose, players are exhausted but still jacked from the intense, emotional game they just played, and most are dealing with injuries, ranging from minor to major. It’s hard to fall asleep.

It’s hard for the coaches, too.

Bednar said he stayed at Ball Arena after the final horn Friday, cut up video of scoring chances for and against, and started evaluating the first period. He went home, couldn’t sleep and watched a little television. He said he planned to finish evaluating the game on the plane and set meeting times for Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

“Especially at this point in the series, you’re trying to find a few things that can help your team,” Bednar said. “… And then once the guys get clear on that, it’s just turning the page and moving on to the next night. Like, we’ve preached it all year, and guys have done a fantastic job of moving on after wins and losses and in staying focused and in the moment. We’ve discussed that for quite a bit. It’s really just a mental reset and then get yourself rested and ready to go.”

Lightning coach Jon Cooper took the opposite approach.

“Playoff series are different, because at this point, you’ve played the team so many times, you kind of know what’s going on, and you have days in between games, and you have a long flight,” Cooper said. “So, no, I’m not diving into the film at that point.”

Cooper said he needs time to be alone.

“At times, I probably look like I’m really calm on the bench, but inside there’s a lot going on,” Cooper said. “With experience and time, I’ve really just kind of learned to take a few breaths, gather my thoughts. But it’s tough.

“Part of you, too, is not only being a coach. You’re a fan as well. Sometimes you sit back and marvel at what you’re watching, like, ‘What’s going on? I’ve got the best seat in the house.’ But then you have to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, let’s get the players’ minds focused and everything.’

“My big thing is, not [to] relish in what happened last night, because there’s so much more to go. So that’s kind of your job, is to manage. That’s what I do a lot, especially in a playoff series.”

They’re living the dream. But the reality is, it’s a long, hard journey to get where everyone ultimately wants to go.

“If you’re going to have a parade for every win, you’re not going to last very long in this league, or you’re definitely not going to last long in the playoffs,” Cooper said. “And I think that with our group, you just have reset and understand, like, it’s the first one to four. It’s not the first one to three. You don’t know how you’re going to get there.”

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