The Stanley Cup Finals are being played by the two lowest combined seeds in NHL history. Whoever wins will be the lowest seeded team to ever bring home the Stanley Cup. This proves to the hockey world that the 2011-2012 NHL regular season was full of false hope for most of us.
There is no doubt the two best teams currently in the NHL are in the Stanley Cup Finals. The New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings peaked at the right time and have been clicking on all cylinders since the start of the playoffs and going back to the end of the regular season. They are playing so well that the first two games of the Finals have finished 2-1 in overtime where either team could have come out on top as the winner.
At the beginning of the 2011-12 season, no one picked the Devils to reach the Stanley Cup. Some experts picked the Kings coming into this season, but half through the year, there was not a single soul who thought they had a chance.
Both teams have showed that all you need to do is get into the NHL Playoffs. Then any team has a chance.These two teams have showed us the recipe for success to hoist the Cup. Both deserve to win looking back at the path they have traveled to get to the Cup Finals.
There are teams like the Vancouver Canucks and the Pittsburgh Penguins which were heavy favorites going into the playoffs based upon their regular season resumes. These two squads can be the first to attest to the fact that regular season hockey is nothing like the post-season.
The Canucks were the 5th highest scoring team and carried home the Presidents’ Trophy with the NHL’s best regular season record. The Penguins were the highest scoring team averaging 3.33 goals per game playing the majority of the season without their superstar, Sidney Crosby.
So anyone can easily see why these two teams were chosen so frequently by experts to collide in the Stanley Cup Finals. Unfortunately for these two teams and their fans, they both exited after the 1st round of the playoffs.
The Pens and Canucks learned the hard way that there is a distinct difference between the regular season and post-season. Both of these teams like playing a wide-open, high-scoring style of game. The Canucks and the Penguins wanted to outscore every team they played this season.
The Penguins had 5 players score 25 goals or more this year and this does not include Crosby. The Canucks had the 4th best power play in the league and the unstoppable duo of Daniel & Henrik Sedin. The Penguins had the fire power to outscore teams. The Canucks had a goaltending dilemma. Why wouldn’t these two teams want to outscore their opponents in the playoffs?
Well, as the NHL Playoffs have shown us all over the years, the greatest scoring talent in the world is not enough to win a playoff series. The post-season is a different game and a different type of intensity that is not seen in any of the regular season games.
There are hundreds of odd-man breaks in the regular season. There is tons of time and space compared to the playoffs. There are highlight reel goals, pretty back-door passes and plenty of dangling taking place.
No matter how hard a team tries to pull off these feats, this type of open hockey rarely takes place in the post-season. Just ask the Canucks and the Penguins.
In the playoffs, there is no time and space, not many passing lanes and odd-man breaks are few and far between. Teams are not trading 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 rushes back and forth in the post-season.
The teams which travel the furthest in the playoffs block tons of shots, take away passing lanes and forbid to give up odd-man rushes. The best playoff teams do not give time and space to superstars. They make life miserable and make each opposing player earn every inch of ice.
Often times in a great series like the Devils versus the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the only way to score a goal is to screen the goaltender. Players had to constantly create traiffic in front of Martin Brodeur or Henrik Lundqvist and hope for a tip-in or deflection to score a goal. These two great defensive teams did not let their opponent enter the house to take a shot on net. Everything was along the perimeter.
Many say that defense wins championships, and defense is a key component to raising the Cup. As the Devils and Kings have gone on to show us, to make a Stanley Cup appearance, a team needs more than quality defensive play.
The two teams in the Cup have balance. They have shown unbelievable offensive and defensive balance on their path to the Finals. Experts were predicting the Kings and Phoenix Coyotes match-up to be a low-scoring affair. The same was said going into the Devils and Rangers series. The Kings and Devils showed us that not only could they play tight defense, but they could score while portraying a relentless fore-check as well.
The Devils and Kings did not try to run up the score against their opponents. They made sure they had everything in check. Each team had their 3rd forward high 99% of the time. Neither team gave up odd-man breaks. Right now, they are both playing a physical brand of hockey as the hit totals are nearly equal between the two teams after the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Lundqvist had us all thinking he may carry the Rangers on his shoulders all the way to the Cup Finals. In the NHL Playoffs, one player can only carry the weight of their team for so long until the weight gets too heavy.
People try to pinpoint one player or one particular aspect being the sole reason why a team succeeded in the playoffs. Many times the goaltender gets all the praise. Goaltending is an essential factor in winning a cup. Jonathan Quick and Brodeur have been sensational. Although, for either one of their respective teams to win the Cup, the recipe is more complicated than how those two play.
As the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs have displayed time and time again, one player will never win a Cup, not even a goaltender. The only thing that will bring home a Stanley Cup is a tough playoff brand of offensive and defensive balance with tons of sacrifice.
Justin Glock has covered the Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers since 2011. As a lead writer, his Penguins knowledge traces back over two decades. For any requests, please feel free to contact Justin via email: JGlock10@gmail.com.