We’re inside a week before the NHL playoffs begin. Once the 16 team field is set, how will the Cup be won? What does the Stanley Cup recipe look like? I believe these are the key ingredients, in no particular order.
1. Sacrifice. This includes shot blocking, which Carolina, Edmonton and Buffalo were particularly good at last season. Maybe you have to take a big hit to make a play – even small plays like a simple pass that help your team maintain possession. Or crashing the net on the off chance the puck squirts out your way. Soft teams lose because they don’t pay the price.
2. Timely scoring. The obvious. Scoring is the name of the game. But are your goals coming in bunches in a 7-3 win? The key to playoff success is grinding it out and finding a way to bury one when it’s 1-1 with 7 minutes left in the third. It also includes cashing in on your power play chances.
3. Great goaltending. This includes making all the saves an NHL goalie should make. All of them. Anything less sucks the life out of your team. It also includes making saves you have no business making. Saves like that suck the life out of the opposition.
4. Luck. This includes the good bounces. Every cup winner can probably point to a play that could have killed them had the bounce or deflection not gone in their favour. Officiating also falls in this category. I’ve never seen so many phantom calls and obvious, uncalled infractions. You also get luck in the seeding department. For some reason, you might match up well against a highly seeded opponent. Or you might struggle against a lower ranked club. Some club might knock off your nemesis in the first round, leaving you with a clearer path to the cup.
5. Poise. Let’s say you blow a 2-0 lead early in the third. We’re all tied at 2. Do you lose that game and mope about it through the next one and suddenly find your self down 2-0 in the series? Does your confidence wane when your goalie lets in a soft one? Does your team get frustrated when the calls are going against you? Do you have a hard time putting teams away? If the answers are yes, thanks for being with us. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.
6. Always finish checks. Never swoop. If the puck just left, finish the bodycheck anyway. Legally smash guys every time. When you’ve smashed your opponent enough times, paranoia and self preservation sets in just a little bit. But that’s sometimes all you need to cash in on a big mistake.
7. Adjustments. Let’s say you lost game one 5-0. What now? Great coaches have a sixth sense. They know when to stay the course and when to make adjustments. Changes could mean line shuffling, a harder forecheck, laying back, shadowing the stars, any number of things. Changes like these can turn everything around or it could leave players so far out of their comfort zone that they get killed in four straight. Knowing when to step in and then make the right move is what separates great coaches from the wannabes. A great captain can also be of service in this category.
Adjustments also help with the aforementioned poise factor. If you’re blowing it, call a time out. Have a player fake an injury. Change goalies twice in 20 seconds. Have a remote control that causes a hinge in the glass to pop loose. Have an ice girl lose her contact lens. Whatever. Delay the game somehow.
There it is. Mix ingredients well for two months and serve. The Stanley Cup Formula. Learn it. Know it. Live it.