Through two games of their Western Conference quarter-final, the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings have signalled that this series will take a toll on the winner, whomever that may be.
Like most of the NHL playoff series, the Canucks and Kings were tied 1-1 after the first two games at GM Place in Vancouver, but both games have been played at a snappy pace, and both have gone to overtime, adding almost an extra period to the players' workloads. Both teams are leaning heavily on their top players, and this has already become a three-line series, with neither coach interested in playing his fourth trio.
The Canucks have effectively played two games with five defencemen because of Andrew Alberts, who was ejected in Game 1 and was benched for ineffectiveness in Game 2.
In preseason, Vancouver's depth on defence was enviable, but by March, it was wonting. Now, Alberts is clearly inadequate, meaning either Aaron Rome (undisclosed injury) is healthy for Game 3, or the Canucks must consider journeyman Nolan Baumgartner.
Up front, just a few weeks ago, the talk around the Canucks surrounded the number of quality forwards in tow. But on Saturday, a 3-2 overtime defeat, Michael Grabner and Rick Rypien barely got off the bench - a combined six minutes - and Steve Bernier would have been right there with them if not for two-plus minutes on the power play.
"We're trying to play three lines and keep a high tempo," Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault said. "The ice time is similar to what was throughout the year."
That is not entirely true.
Four Canucks - Ryan Kesler, Alexander Edler, Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff - are playing five more minutes a game, on average, than their regular-season averages. Five more - the Sedin twins, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond and Kevin Bieksa - are playing roughly three more minutes a game. All of them said they relished the extra time given the high stakes, but there have been some drawbacks.
Kesler got caught on an extra long penalty-killing shift on Saturday, and could barely get out to the defencemen to challenge point shots. Such scenes could become more commonplace should this terrific tempo - and need for overtime - keep up.
The Canucks are scheduled to stay over Wednesday after Game 4 in Los Angeles, which was prescribed by the team's sleep doctor, who has been advising general manager Mike Gillis since last year.
On the Los Angeles side, 20-year-old defenceman Drew Doughty played nearly 33 minutes in Game 2 and admitted to being dehydrated afterward, while veteran forward Ryan Smyth said he is prepared for the "long haul." The Kings played five overtime games to close the regular season, and have now gone past regulation seven consecutive times.
"I said from the start that I think it's going to go six or seven games, and that they'll be fairly close games," Kings defenceman Sean O'Donnell said. "I think teams are thinking that they'll worry about Round 2 when they get to Round 2."
Game 3 is tonight, and marks the return of the NHL playoffs to La La Land after an eight-year absence. It also marks a strategy change, as Kings head coach Terry Murray is empowered with last change.
In Game 1, the Kings were relatively content to let Vigneault dictate matchups. But in the second contest, Murray began matching his third line and his top defence pair, Doughty and Rob Scuderi, with the Sedins' line - even if it meant changing on the fly.
The tactic worked. After scoring two goals, one on the power play, in Game 1, Vancouver's top line was held off the scoresheet.