After losing four in a row at the end of March and beginning of April, it’s apparent that the Panthers have lost some of the mojo they picked up with the acquisition of goalie Roberto Luongo. It shouldn’t be a big surprise, though. With teams like the Panthers, Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres now all mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, there’s no question that it must be tough for these players get on the ice every night and still give it their all. With nothing to play for except an extended summer vacation, what kind of emotional toll does early playoff elimination take on the teams and their players? Do they really care about the outcomes of the games or is it simply a chance to increase personal stats and give rookies more ice time? Is it in the back of their minds that their positions may not be secure for next year or are they wishing they were on a more successful team?
According to psychologist, author and media consultant Erik Fisher (a.k.a. Dr. “E”), there can be a lot of contributing factors. Everything from individual work ethics, team chemistry, coaching chemistry, and injuries are all factors that play to how hard they finish out the season.
“I also think it depends on who you’re playing,” Dr. Fisher says. “Such as in grudge matches where they might put all their energy into it.”
Rivalry And Spoilers
Some rivalries, of course, are more intense than others. In games between two teams that are known to dislike each other immensely, like the Islanders and the Rangers or the Penguins and the Flyers, regardless of their position regarding the playoffs, those games will always be hard, fast and intense. The playoffs have nothing to do it; it’s all about the rivalry and vying for local dominance, bragging rights and bringing the fans out of their seats. So although the Rangers and Islanders won’t be meeting again this season, the Islanders will be taking on the New Jersey Devils, another team that falls into the New York City area rivalry. The Devils are going to need to kick, scratch and possibly make a deal with, well, the Devil, to make it into the playoffs and it’s a team like the Islanders who can stand in their way. Simply because they are all geographically close enough to be rivals. And maybe because it’s fun.
Another part of the game that comes into play once the playoffs are off the table is the injury report. Players like brothers Eric and Marc Staal, who play for the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers respectively, have had a plethora of injuries from taking a puck in the eye to knee-on-knee hits. An early ending to the season gives players like them a chance to heal, rehabilitate and get back in shape without missing an important part of the season.
A prime example of this is Florida Panthers Captain Ed Jovanovski, who underwent major hip surgery due to the unbearable pain he suffered from arthritis. He was away from hockey for five months before he could re-join his team at the beginning of training camp. His recovery was amazing but it’s just part of who he is, the part of him that needs to play hockey, and that not only got him back on the ice but makes him the kind of captain players like and respect. Not making the playoffs is never ideal, but it can sometimes be unwittingly convenient.
Playing The Game
In the end, what it boils down to, though, is the integrity of the athlete. At the end of the day, these are guys who live and breathe hockey. It’s not just what they do, it’s who they are, and every time they set foot on the ice they know that it’s not just about winning a championship, it’s about playing the game they love, giving the fans their money’s worth, and showing both their coaches and the NHL in general that they’re still there to play. Winning is good, but making sure you’re doing the best that you can under any circumstance is better. The character needed to win the Stanley Cup isn’t born during the playoffs, it’s built during the regular season, the off-season and every time a player laces up his skates.