As the NHL prepared to resume its regular season after a two-week break, many wondered how the Games' participants would react. Would they wilt under the pressure of a playoff push, or would they be invigorated by some of the most riveting hockey any of us may ever see?
The San Jose Sharks (eight) and Chicago Blackhawks (six) combined for 14 Olympians. Many of them -- guys like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook -- played significant roles. As we move one round away from the Stanley Cup Finals, these 14 and their respective teams are still going strong.
While it's easy to say the players kept their focus on the big prize all along, this is likely more a testament to the conditioning and drive of these athletes.
They went like gangbusters for two weeks in Vancouver while much of the league was resting. Now, many of the 14 Olympians taking part in the Western Conference Finals are going even harder after a Stanley Cup. Of the 14, only two -- Boyle and Chicago's Tomas Kopecky -- have won a Cup in their careers.
"Yeah, I think it's kind of like what we were doing at the Olympics, too, playing against your own teammates," he said Saturday, as the Sharks prepared for Game 1 against Chicago. "As soon as that puck drops, you want to win and you want to compete. You're on different teams."
Teammate Dany Heatley said it's nothing new for a pro athlete.
"If you've been around a few years," Heatley said, "you played a lot of different guys, played against a lot of different guys. Hockey is one of those games where everybody respects you're trying to win, do your job. Like he said, once the puck drops, all you're trying to do is win the game."
"It's always fun," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski -- who played on Team USA -- said. "I think everybody's heart is with their organization. You spend a lot of time with them. For those two weeks, it was all USA and fun. We were competing together, working hard."
Chicago's Keith, who will see huge minutes in this series trying to slow down Thornton and Marleau, agrees.
"Being in the Olympics was a special experience, getting to know different guys around the league was pretty neat, too," he said. "Obviously they got four guys on their team that we got to know. It was a fun time.
"But now being in the playoffs, you're with your Blackhawks here. Everything is business here, trying to accomplish what we've been trying to do here as a team all year long. You know, the past is the past, and obviously you remember that. But, you know, we're going to have fun playing against them now."
Watching these two teams, it doesn't appear the players who played hockey over the Olympic break have suffered from much fatigue.
"As far as the fatigue factor," Heatley said, "you know, I think (Sharks coach) Todd (McLellan) knew this was coming, the possibility we were going to have a lot of guys all through the years, done a pretty good job of getting days off before the break, and even after the break."
Those days off must have involved practices, because Heatley and Marleau played in all 82 regular-season games, while Thornton (79) and Boyle (76) didn't miss many. For Chicago, Kane and Keith played in all 82, while Toews missed just six games, and Seabrook was out for four.
There is no textbook for dealing with something like this. Four years ago, a Detroit team loaded with Olympians from the Torino Games won the President's Trophy, then was unceremoniously bounced in six games by No. 8 seed Edmonton in the first round. In 2002, another Detroit team full of Olympians won it all.
This year, Detroit had a lot of Olympians, including Team USA minute-eating defenseman Brian Rafalski, yet they managed a great run through their post-Olympic schedule. After some pre-Olympic drama about their hopes, the Wings earned a playoff spot with relative ease before being bounced by the Sharks in the second round.
"We tried to gauge that as best we can," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I know our team game slipped a little bit coming out of the Olympic break. We tried to monitor their ice time a little bit, cut them back a little bit. At the same time, you're in the winning business, trying to win the game you're in. Maybe you can get a little bit of a breather in the next game.
"Every game was kind of different. That was part of our thought process, give them a couple days off here and there and hopefully they could replenish their tanks. We're very happy with where they're at right now. Seems to be a lot of energy in these guys."
Toews, Chicago's young captain, said the fact both teams are here had a lot to do with their depth.
"You look at their team, you look at ours, the reason we're both still standing is obviously there's a great supporting cast, great players, that obviously weren't at the Olympics that had that two-week break."
Thornton wasn't afraid to smile when asked about playing against Toews after playing with him on Team Canada.
"I'll be hacking Johnny as much as I can," Thornton said. "I loved him for two weeks in February, but, you know, that's different now."
Toews deadpanned right back at Big Joe.
"I'm looking forward to giving him a few whacks, too."