What it takes for NHL playoff contenders to win the Stanley Cup


The path to the Stanley Cup is rarely a straight line. Sometimes it’s the direction a puck takes as it leaves the post and goes in or out.

Four years ago, Artemi Panarin fired a shot from the post late in regulation that could have put Columbus up three games to zero in the first round against Washington. Lars Eller scored, the Capitals won the series and won the Stanley Cup.

Andre Burakovsky looks back now and recognizes that he and the Capitals had a few lucky rebounds on the way to their first championship in franchise history. Now with the Colorado Avalanche, he’s well aware that’s only part of what it takes for a playoff team to overcome the hurdle and win it all.

“It’s so hard to win the Stanley Cup,” Burakovsky said. “You’re going to need a little luck and you’re going to need everyone on your team to be extremely connected, to sacrifice and to do whatever it takes to win.”

The NHL is full of title contenders who turn out to be contenders and plenty of success stories of teams that get it and get the job done. As the playoffs begin Monday night, Burakovsky and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers are among the teams looking to make the leap — a challenge that is part of good health and luck, but more about how to ride the roller coaster of wins and losses through four rounds.

“Once you commit to something, whether it’s the defensive part of the game or whatever was holding you back and you commit to it and break through, it becomes easier because you know what’s there. “said Barry Trotz, who coached the Captials. the cutting. “It’s almost like climbing Everest. You want to do it, you think you can do it, then you have to do it and you get to a certain place.

Players and coaches who have won the Cup or reached the final have described that rise as a combination of consistency, confidence and the right mix of goalkeepers and spot goals.

The Tampa Bay Lightning certainly had it all when they won back-to-back victories over the past two years. In 2021, they knocked out Florida in the first round, Carolina in the second round, and Trotz’s New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Ken Daneyko, who won the Cup with New Jersey three times, pointed to a Sam Bennett penalty that cost the Panthers last year. Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said special teams made the difference against Tampa Bay and in their previous playoff outings against the Boston Bruins.

Current Devils coach Lindy Ruff agrees with that, which is a crucial part of winning the playoffs.

“If your shorthandedness is strong, if you’ve taken penalties and you’re not giving the other team a chance to take advantage of that, that’s another big deal,” said Ruff, who coached Buffalo. until the final in 1999. “A often power plays can be tough. As a team looking to win, if you can avoid the other team’s power play, that gives you a better chance to win.

Five of the last six champions have finished in the top five on the power play or shorthanded in the playoffs. Five of the six also ranked in the top five for goals conceded.

Rod Brind’Amour, who captained the Hurricanes until the Cup in 2006 and is now their coach, said becoming a solid goaltender and keeping the guys in the lineup are key.

” What should be ? You have to be healthy when you reach the playoffs,” Brind’Amour said. “If your best guys are out, it’s going to be tough.”

Brind’Amour and the Hurricanes enter the playoffs with a double whammy: starting goaltender Frederik Andersen is injured. Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry is also absent, while Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau are among the other top players.

Some Cup champions have overcome injuries, like the Blues losing Robert Thomas in 2019 and the Lightning winning again after Alex Killorn’s exit in the 2021 final.

The Capitals lost center Nicklas Backstrom to injury and wing Tom Wilson suspended before Game 6 of their second-round series against Pittsburgh and focused on spares for replacement. Jay Beagle and Nathan Walker assisted on Alex Chiasson’s regulation-time goal, then Ovechkin assisted Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime winner to put Washington through to the second round for the first time since 1998.

“Everyone had counted us out for dead and that’s when we could have played one of our best games because there was this resilience that you got punched in the nose and that you have to keep getting up,” Trotz said. “You’re going to get punched in the nose. You will have to get up several times.

When the Penguins fired Mike Johnston at the start of the 2015-16 season, Mike Sullivan took over and told the players to forget what happened in the previous game or off the ice and to “just play”. Several months later, they won the first of back-to-back Cup titles that veteran defender Ian Cole attributes to that mindset.

“We had so much confidence,” said Cole, who is now with Carolina. “We were losing a game, going down a series and it was something where it was like, ‘OK, go win the next one.’ It’s just confidence and a consistent game plan and consistent play I think it’s having the right mindset and knowing how to win and not getting rattled if you don’t but being able to bounce back immediately and win the next one.

Daneyko, now an NHL Network analyst, said he and his teammates learned in 1994 that every game counts. After the Devils lost a Game 6 lead to the New York Rangers and were knocked out in seven, they learned a lesson and won the Cup the following year.

“We knew what it was going to take: you couldn’t sit down,” Daneyko said. “Emotion has to be balanced, has to be controlled. You have to stay balanced, but play your game.”

This style of play does not have to be the same. Three years ago, the Blues battled their way to a title and have now moved on to win with skill and purpose.

No matter how hockey goes, the key is to make it to the playoffs for a chance to win. Of recent Cup champions, Tampa Bay has made the playoffs eight of the past nine years, St. Louis 10 of 11, Washington nine of 10 and Pittsburgh 16 in a row.

“You just have to get there as much as you can and breaks are going to happen,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “You need things to go your way. You need health, you need a few breaks, then ride as far as you can.


Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno


More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


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