We learn, (at least we should) season after season, that playoff hockey is different than regular-season hockey. It’s not a skills competition; it takes a well-balanced, disciplined, physically and mentally fit team to make it very far. The Toronto Maple Leafs losing out in round two last night was a prime example of that.
A Hot (Good) and Consistent Goalie
Every team that wins the Stanley Cup or gets it in their sights (makes it to the finals or semi-finals) has a hot goalie. Goalie issues, whether injury or (under) performance related, plague many teams, Toronto included. The Ottawa Senators, my favourite team, suffered from goalie issues this past season too. Both injury and performance related and it was frustrating to watch. In retrospect, we can only wonder what could have been if these issues had not been there.
While Toronto’s Samsonov played inconsistently, Woll, their rookie goalie that played the last two games, was consistent and better but not good enough. Bobrovsky, the Panther’s goalie, on the other hand, was consistently great. I’m sure no one would disagree that he (nicknamed Bob the goalie) was the MVP of that series.
A consistently strong defense is another must for Stanley Cup contenders. Not just one or two players, but six, so that every line keeps their opponent from shooting and scoring. One great defender that is expected to play 25 minutes or more a game does not constitute a strong, effective defense. Of course, not many teams have six excellent defenders but those that have the most are the teams that make it far.
Good defensive players are sturdy (don’t suffer injuries easily), hard (but not dirty) hitting, great puck movers (getting the puck out of their zone), and determined to fulfill their role on the team. It is a bonus if they can rush to the opponent’s net with the puck too, as long as they can get back to defend when the puck moves the other way.
Discipline, Endurance, and Depth
Any team that makes it deep into playoff hockey has to be extremely disciplined for sixty-minute (all three periods) games. Coming from behind is exciting but is hard to execute on a regular basis so not a reliable way to win.
Staying out of the penalty box is important too as providing opponents with a man advantage is a quick way to give up a goal and momentum in the game. Every goal is so important in playoff hockey.
Depth of talent is extremely important too. One line of high-end (paid) players won’t cut it for long. It comes back to that old saying “There’s no I in team.” It takes a whole team of teammates that each offer one hundred percent, for the entire game.
Controlling the Corners
Do you ever notice that some players are awesome at controlling the corners in hockey games? By that I mean they go right into the corners of the rink and fight for the puck with their bodies. Others tend to stand back and wave their sticks (poke) at the puck. The latter lack the grit to get the job done.
Conclusions in Playoff Hockey
The individual, high-paid players that show off their skills during the regular season by racking up the points often don’t perform as well in playoff hockey. Why is that? Because playoff hockey is not a skills competition!