Adam McQuaid plays best when he’s angry. When he feels a teammate has been slighted, McQuaid turns into the Hulk.
But as soon as the final buzzer sounds, McQuaid’s blood plummets from full boil to room temperature. Even after a high-intensity affair, the Bruins defenseman can usually count on a good sleep when he retires to his home or hotel room.
“It can be hit or miss sometimes,” McQuaid said between back-to-back games earlier this year against Florida and Carolina. “But we got in relatively late last night. So it was pretty easy to wind down. Probably got about 7½ hours. Not bad.”
It is easier said than done to shut off the postgame adrenaline. But there are few things more important than winding down promptly and rebooting for the next game, especially this year because of the compressed schedule. A player’s performance for one game depends greatly on how he recovers from the previous match.
As soon as the game clock expires, that of recovery starts to tick. The first 30 minutes are a critical window to maximize, starting with refueling.
“Usually that’s when stuff is absorbed the best,” said Paul Whissel, Bruins director of sports performance and rehabilitation. “We have research that shows that protein synthesis is the highest if you can get protein within the first 30 minutes. It’s just as important to replenish glycogen stores. Especially with athletes that play an anaerobic sport, it’s important they replenish those carbohydrates for glycogen and energy.”
For the training staff, Whissel describes the burst of postgame activity as triage. Treatment begins for injured players. Ice bags fly. Players take dunks in the hot and cold tubs.
Postgame nutrition is just as important as treatment. Because they have burned so much energy during the game, the players need rapid refueling. Sports drinks are available to replace electrolytes lost through sweat. Bars, gels, and bananas are popular items to grab as players return to the dressing room — a more preferable alternative for team nutritionists than the pizza slices that have yet to be eliminated from the postgame spread. A recovery shake is made for each player, containing a blend of protein, amino acids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes.
“We leave them at the stalls now to try and promote them to take them right away,” Whissel said. “That’s one of the things we have changed — how we’re getting them directly on the stalls and not having them near the plane or on a table outside the locker room.”
Players also go through postgame workouts amid refueling. Some stretch. Some ride stationary bikes. Others lift weights.
If the team is on the road, refueling continues on the plane. Hot meals, usually consisting of meat, fish, and vegetables, are served. Upon touchdown, whether it’s back home or on to the next stop, players are encouraged to sleep as soon as possible. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Emotions are still high. Performance, good or bad, weighs on minds.
“I find that usually when the game’s done, I’m fine,” Ryan Spooner said. “Unless I play an extremely terrible game, then I’m a little bit [ticked] off. I go home and usually talk to my mom and dad for a little bit. But for the most part I can go home, watch TV for 45 minutes, and fall asleep. It’s usually not a big deal for me. I know there’s some guys here, it takes them 2-3 hours to fall asleep. It depends on the person.”
Every signal points to recovery as an essential component of an athlete’s schedule. Players can provide anecdotal feedback, citing freshness or fatigue, to determine how they prepare for the next game.
But sports have progressed to the degree where science provides reinforcement. During practice, players wear heart rate monitors that help trainers determine how hard they’re working and whether they need to ease off. Movement trackers can monitor a player’s skating stride and gauge whether it’s compromised because of fatigue.
The result is that teams are becoming more mindful of not grinding their assets into dust. Coaches bag morning skates. They shorten practices. They encourage optional skates. Treating players right manifests on the ice.
“Huge benefits,” Whissel said of players who manage their postgame routines carefully. “Performance short term, but also more longevity, too. Especially with the 82-game schedule being consolidated now, the more you can do each day to slow down the effect of fatigue over the course of the year, the better they’re going to be in March and April when it really matters. It’s a grueling schedule.”
Boyle has been there before
Brian Boyle used to have plenty of company. The Hingham native could look around Tampa and see Red Sox hats everywhere he went.
The snowbirds Boyle once considered close company, however, have been replaced by Canadians wearing Blue Jays apparel. So for the last month, the former Boston College forward has been trying to find his way off the ice.
On the ice, everything is familiar for Boyle. The 32-year-old has had repeated brushes with the Stanley Cup, only to fall short of lifting it over his head.
On Feb. 27, when the Lightning traded Boyle to the Maple Leafs, the 6-foot-7-inch behemoth geared up for another run at the Cup.
In 2013-14, while working on Broadway, Boyle and the Rangers fell three wins short of winning the Cup against the Kings. A year later, Boyle came up two wins shy of a championship when the Lightning lost to the Blackhawks. Last season, Tampa Bay lost to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals.
It is with a far darker horse that Boyle is chasing the Cup this season. The Leafs look like they’re better equipped to win in two or more years when their kids can actually start sprouting playoff beards.
But that is the reason the Leafs believed Byron Froese and a 2017 second-round pick were worth trading for Boyle, a pure rental.
Boyle is a fourth-line center and penalty killer. But a critical one at that.
“I’ve been around some great leaders and some great players who have had tremendous amounts of success,” said Boyle. “I’ve tried to pick their brains and tried to take a little bit of what they’ve done, see how they’ve approached things, and apply it to my game and see how it works.”
Delay is popular on the power play
Like every team, the Bruins have the delay in their game plan. It has become a go-to breakout for teams on the power play.
It calls for the puck carrier to stickhandle through the neutral zone, usually with two teammates in his rearview mirror. If the first forechecker disrupts his entry into the offensive zone, he can drop the puck for one of the trailers.
Under Claude Julien, the Bruins’ No. 1 unit used the delay regularly. Torey Krug served as the puck carrier, trailed by Ryan Spooner and David Krejci. If Krug saw issues with the first forechecker, he would leave the puck for Krejci. If Krejci couldn’t carry the puck into the offensive zone, he could use Spooner, flying through the neutral zone, as an option to his left.
In theory, the delay opens up the playbook for the man-up team. The primary puck carrier can gain the offensive zone on his own if opponents sag back and anticipate the pass. The trailers serve as a second wave of speeding attackers. Penalty killers have to reset, tweak their gaps, and adjust their timing when the drop takes place.
Toronto, which had the NHL’s best power play heading into the weekend, employs Jake Gardiner as the puck carrier and William Nylander as the trailer.
The Sabres have the second-best power play. Most recently, Jake McCabe has been the primary puck carrier on the delay. When McCabe meets resistance, he drops the puck to Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.
Columbus, which started out on fire, uses Zach Werenski as its quarterback and Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg as its trailers.
Bruce Cassidy prefers the delay to be a secondary option.
“I liked the delay years ago,” the Bruins coach said. “I just find that so many teams use it now, so kills are very prepared to see it. When they see a little more of a speed entry, it’s a bit of an adjustment. Even though they talk about it and they pre-scout it, when you don’t see it that much and you don’t practice it, it’s tougher to defend.”
Cassidy has preached pace and an attack mentality. In the offensive zone, Cassidy wants his forwards to think about going to the net first instead of seeking relief at the points.
This thinking extends to the power play. The delay promotes backward movement of the puck. These are precious seconds that Cassidy wants his players going north instead of south. On his first unit, Cassidy has players who carry the puck not only with skill but with speed in Krug, Spooner, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.
“We have the ability to do it with Marshy in the mix, Pastrnak, and Spooner. Their strength is their foot speed,” Cassidy said. “And Torey Krug, as well. The delay is certainly something we’ve gone to periodically. But for the most part with our speed, we’ve been able to get in, either through the middle of the ice and kicking it wide, which forces them to contract. Or just plain and simple outside speed, driving it deep, going low to high, and getting into our setups. It’s worked for us.”
Doing more with less
Rangers’ drive is in cruise control
Thanks to the Capitals’ flattening, Pittsburgh and Columbus still have chances to overtake Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division and claim the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. All three have plenty of motivation to sprint for first place. The two runner-up teams will claim second and third place in the Metropolitan, thereby setting up an opening clash and a first-round exit for one of the clubs. It is an unfortunate fate because of the NHL’s silly bracket system, which has replaced the more sensible 1-8 seeding. So while all three teams mash the gas until the end, the Rangers have no intentions to burn as many matches. New York is currently in fourth place in the Metropolitan and has slim chances of cracking the top three. On their current pace, the Rangers would claim the No. 1 wild-card entry and play Montreal in the first round. The Canadiens would be an easier opening-round opponent for the Rangers than any of their Metropolitan rivals. If the Rangers advance, they would stay within the cupcake Atlantic Division bracket to square off against Ottawa, Toronto, or Boston in the second round. So, while Henrik Lundqvist is recovering from a hip injury, the Rangers’ ace goalie is in no rush to hurry back.
Bonus situation for Nylander
William Nylander had a good week. Nylander scored the winning goal for Toronto against Columbus on Wednesday. As much as it helped the Leafs bag two critical points, it also gave Nylander an extra $212,500 in his checking account. It was Nylander’s 20th goal of the season, triggering one of the Schedule A bonuses in his entry-level contract. The following night against New Jersey, the right-shot forward assisted on Josh Leivo’s power-play goal in the Leafs’ 4-2 win. The helper brought Nylander to the 35-assist threshold, which led to another $212,500 payout to accompany his $925,000 annual base salary. Teams love having players on their entry-level contracts to balance out their big-ticket veterans. One disadvantage, especially with high-end prospects, is how bonus payments can add up. As good as Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Nikita Zaitsev have been, they could end up costing the Leafs a bundle in bonuses. These extra bucks would be applied to Toronto’s bonus overage in 2017-18 and beyond. Matthews and Marner have two years remaining on their ELCs and are eligible for bonuses in each season. Given how well they’ve performed this year, it’s a good bet they’ll do even better in the next two seasons and continue to earn their bonuses.
Babcock with a rare bad move
Nobody questions Mike Babcock’s status as one of the NHL’s elite coaches. But the Toronto boss made a five-star blunder that could have torpedoed his team’s march up the standings on Wednesday against Columbus. For some reason, when Roman Polak was whistled for a five-minute major for belting Oliver Bjorkstrand, Babcock did not place one of his players in the penalty box to serve the defenseman’s infraction. The next stoppage of play did not take place until nearly seven minutes later. By then, the Leafs had killed Polak’s penalty, limiting the Blue Jackets to just one Jack Johnson power-play shot. But because Babcock did not put anyone in the box, Toronto had to play with four skaters until the whistle. “We laughed on the bench, but it was all my fault,” Babcock told the Toronto Star. “In hindsight, if that had cost you, it’d be terrible. It will never happen in my lifetime again. I will never wait to put a guy in.”
Tough year for ex-Bruins assistants Geoff Ward (New Jersey), Doug Houda (Detroit), and Doug Jarvis (Vancouver), all of whom will miss the playoffs. They’re all good men and smart hockey minds. It is none of their faults that their organizations are rebuilding . . . Claude Julien gave Alex Galchenyuk multiple chances at center between Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov on the first line. But following a zero-shot game in Montreal’s 2-1 overtime loss to Detroit on Tuesday, Galchenyuk shifted to left wing alongside Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen. If Julien considers Galchenyuk a better long-term fit on the wing, GM Marc Bergevin will be hunting for a center this summer, and not via the unrestricted market, where the pickings are slim . . . Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist connected on a lovely goal on March 29. Kessel, positioned behind the net, chipped a bobbling puck over the Florida net. Hornqvist, cutting in front, whacked the mid-air puck past goalie James Reimer. The amazing thing was not the creativity, instinctiveness, or athleticism that Kessel and Hornqvist displayed on the baseball-like sequence. It was that Hornqvist had time to adjust his jock, spit out tobacco juice, and fix his gloves before bunting the puck into the net.
Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report. Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.