DENVER (AP) — Visitors to Ball Arena are reminded of the altitude challenge facing them as soon as they walk through the doors with a sign welcoming them to the “Mile High City, elevation 5,280 feet.”
That reminder becomes reality during the first few shifts of a hockey game, especially one as crucial as the start of the Stanley Cup Final. The Tampa Bay Lightning looked like they were feeling it early in Game 1, though they came back to tie it before losing in overtime. They said they don’t consider the elevation a reason they shouldn’t be able to tie the series on Saturday night.
“It would be easy for everyone to use that as an excuse, but we came out here early, got a good practice in and we were ready to go,” veteran defenseman Victor Hedman said Friday. “Now we had a few days more, but it’s not going to change the way we approach the game.”
Center Anthony Cirelli, whose job is to shadow speedy Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon, brushed it off entirely as a factor.
“Guys are going out there and we’re giving our all,” Cirelli said. “We just go out there and play, and I don’t think it affects the way we play or going out there and just executing our game plan.”
The Lightning have been in Denver since Monday, which is still less time than it took Josh Manson to get used to the elevation after being traded to Colorado from Anaheim. He described breathing on the bench after an extended shift as expecting his body to recover — but the recovery just didn’t come.
“It’s almost like the air that’s coming in isn’t really doing anything for you,” Manson said. “The practices felt tougher, everything just felt a little bit more difficult. But once you settle in and acclimate, then it makes a big difference, for sure.”
The Avalanche could be getting one of their injured forwards back after veteran Andrew Cogliano was a full participant in practice and skated on the fourth line. Cogliano missed the series opener after injuring a finger blocking a shot with his right hand in the Western Conference final-clinching victory against Edmonton on June 6.
“Cogliano is kind of progressing,” coach Jared Bednar said. “He felt good enough to join the group today. We’ll see where he’s at tomorrow.”
Center Nazem Kadri is further away from returning. Kadri, who has been out since injuring his right thumb during the Oilers series, skated with a stick in his hands for a second consecutive day but again did not take any shots.
“For the last couple of days, he’s been getting better,” Bednar said. “But I don’t have an update on him besides that.”
SON NOT MUCH LIKE FATHER
To get to his first Stanley Cup Final, Josh Manson had to go through his father, an assistant coach with Edmonton. The Avalanche swept Dave Manson and the Oilers in the West final, and the two were able to enjoy a moment in the handshake line.
“Just father-son stuff,” Josh said. “We didn’t break down the game or anything. He was excited for me.”
Manson made an impact in Colorado’s Game 1 victory with a few crushing hits, and his style of play draws some similarities to his dad, who was also a big defenseman. Dave Manson is also one of the most penalized players in NHL history
“Maybe you can’t get away with as many things today, but I try to take as much as I can from his game,” Josh said. “I think we both play a fairly simple game, from what I hear. The less the puck is on my stick, I think the better. I don’t know how it was for him, but the less it’s on my stick, the better, and the quicker I can get it into somebody else’s hands, I think that suits my game.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper praised Manson for getting up the ice and contributing to Colorado’s attack in the series opener.
“He’s up in the rush — finding the holes and picking his spots to go,” Cooper said.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno