Olympic sprint gives way to Stanley Cup marathon

Mon Apr 14, 2014 8:16pm EDT
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By Steve Keating

(Reuters) - With the sprint for Olympic gold over, the marathon run for the Stanley Cup begins this week with the opening round of the National Hockey League playoffs.

While the Sochi Games was a two-week gold rush, the quest for the Stanley Cup is an ultimate test of endurance requiring the eventual champions to persevere through four best-of-seven series before lifting the NHL's top prize.

The first round gets underway on Wednesday in what will be as much a battle of survival as a sporting contest for the 16 teams that qualified after an 82-game regular season.

Such is the ferocity of the postseason that Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron played through torn rib cartilage, a broken rib, a separated right shoulder and a punctured lung in last year's final against the Chicago Blackhawks before spending three days in a hospital.

Still stinging from last season's loss, the Bruins are back in the playoffs, this time as the NHL's most complete team and with the added benefit of home-ice advantage in each series they play after finishing first overall during the regular season.

No team knows more about the postseason grind than Boston's first-round opponent, the Detroit Red Wings, who are back in the playoffs for a remarkable 23rd consecutive year after sneaking in as the Eastern Conference's second wild card.

The Bruins and Red Wings, two of the NHL's Original Six franchises, will clash in the playoffs for the first time since 1957 when their series opens on Friday.

"We're team oriented," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. "We focus on the big goal and what it takes to get there and our guys have bought into that."   Continued...