The former NHL forward was playing for the 2006 Edmonton Oilers, who went nine days between defeating the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the Western Conference Final on May 27 and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Carolina Hurricanes on June 5.
“It’s not easy, because you’re sitting there, and you’ve got something ahead of you that’s a lifelong dream,” said Horcoff, now assistant general manager for the Detroit Red Wings.
“Edmonton was going insane with excitement so what we did to get away was we went to New York, practiced at the Rangers practice facility. I think we spent three or four days out there prior to going to [North] Carolina, just to get away from it a little bit and try to calm the nerves. I thought at the time, it was a pretty good idea. It’s a long time to think and wait for it to start.”
The Colorado Avalanche are going through that same situation now.
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After completing their four-game sweep of the Oilers in the Western Conference Final on June 6, they’ll play Game 1 of the Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS ), an eight-day layoff. The two-time defending champion Lightning defeated the New York Rangers 2-1 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday.
Teams who have had to wait at various points of the playoffs have had their share of losses in the ensuing round. The 2006 Oilers lost to the Hurricanes in seven games, but Horcoff wasn’t blaming the long wait for it.
“We started off good and built ourselves a pretty good lead in Game 1. Ultimately, we lost Game 1, but I certainly think the way we came out, it didn’t affect the legacy,” he said. “It’s funny. Playoffs, especially, is all about swings, changes in momentum and that one just didn’t fall our way.”
The 2019 Boston Bruins, who waited 11 days after sweeping the Hurricanes in the East Final, went on to lose to the St. Louis Blues in seven games. The 2003 Mighty Ducks, who had an 11-day wait after defeating the Minnesota Wild in four games in the West Final, lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games in that year’s Cup Final. That was the second extended wait for those Ducks in the 2003 postseason, who had seven days off between defeating the Red Wings in the quarterfinals and playing the Dallas Stars in the semifinals. The Mighty Ducks defeated the Stars in six games.
“When it happens early in the playoffs, you’re looking to get right back to it, right? When it happens, moving into the Final, I think we thought it was a positive because guys were banged up, of course, and the rest allowed guys time to heal. But 11 days is kind of long,” said former defenseman Keith Carney, who played for the Mighty Ducks that season.
“We weren’t ready for Game 1 of the Final [a 3-0 Devils win]. It took us a little time to get our game back, back to the way we were playing. We dropped the first two games. Once we got home, we got back to playing our style of game that gave us success. But it was tough to get going again.”
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For the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks, the nine days between sweeping the Wild in the second round and playing the Ducks in the conference final was a chance to rest, recover and get ready for what turned out to be a very physical series against Anaheim. Ultimately it didn’t hurt them: the Blackhawks defeated the Ducks in seven games, then defeated the Lightning in six games to win the Cup.
“With our leadership, we held each other accountable, making sure we were ready for Game 1 of the Conference Final,” former Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said.
“It was like, practice two days, two days off, day off, then practice. We just stayed fresh a little bit. When we were on the ice, it wasn’t too taxing, We, got off days with families, got to relax a little bit and enjoy some downtime. The rest was huge for us.”
Some took advantage of their wait on the family front. Carney and his wife had bid on a Laguna Beach condo during a regular-season charity event, so they spent a few days there. Former forward Stu Barnes, who played for the 1999 Buffalo Sabers when they had a seven-day wait between defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games in the Eastern Conference Final and playing the Stars in the Cup Final, spent one of the days taking his wife and daughter at the Toronto Zoo.
“Having that much time off, it just doesn’t happen that way very often,” Barnes said. The Sabers won Game 1 of the Final in overtime after their break but lost to the Stars in six games.
“I don’t remember being off [my game] at all, going from there, beyond that. Even if you were off a little bit, the start would be the only thing.”
Hall of Fame forward Mike Modano said the Stars felt the good and bad elements of a short turnaround in 1999 and 2000, when they defeated the Avalanche in the conference final each year. They played the Sabers in the 1999 Cup Final four days later, and the Devils in the 2000 Cup Final three days later.
“The more time you get away, the adrenaline, endorphins wear down and you have to settle back in and work your way back up,” he said. “But some of the guys were still feeling a little bit of the Colorado series, physically when we went to Buffalo series. Eventually, it caught up to us. Buffalo was a grueling series; they were physical, not much room out there. Guys were starting to drop like flies as the series continued on.”
Teams can’t choose how long or short their wait time is between playoff series. All teams can do, and all the Avalanche could do this time around, is adjust to whatever the schedule throws at them.
“When it’s a short turnaround, there’s not much time to think. Some will say after a grueling seven-game series and emotions of that, it can be a detriment. I don’t see it that way. You’re in a groove , you’re feeling good,” said Ken Daneyko, who was a member of the Devils’ three Stanley Cup championships and is now an analyst for the team and NHL Network.
“Believe me, I know coaches and managers, they talk about it forever, how to handle [long layoffs], when to give guys off. I’m sure that’s what Colorado is figuring out there, managing it the best way from their experience. I don’t think there’s any perfect formula. You’re going to the Final, this is a team that’s been champing at the bit, building toward this and it took them a couple of years. They’re there now, we thought they’d be there a couple of years ago and they’re going to be fired up and ready to go.”