The NHL Playoffs are down to four teams and the San Jose Sharks will have a
tough challenge facing the St. Louis Blues, who just bested the ‘mighty’
Anaheim Ducks in seven games.
This is because each of these teams uses their entire roster to
win these arduous games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins outlasted the President’s Trophy
winning Washington Capitals and now face the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won their
series against the New York Islanders despite being without their top
defenceman in Victor Hedman for most of the series, as well as scoring machine
Most teams would have floundered without their top two players
(goaltender Ben Bishop notwithstanding), but supporting players in the Eastern
Conference have made a huge impact on their teams successes in these playoffs.
Sidney Crosby was held to two assists in the round against the
Washington Capitals and his team advanced. On the other side was Alex Ovechkin
who was largely held in check for the series as well, despite being a 50 goal
scorer for the seventh time.
Ovechkin tried his best to score as many goals as possible but
it was not enough. The only way to get to the Stanley Cup Finals is to have
each and every player doing their job every night, no matter how small a role
they play. For example, the Penguins second line of Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin,
and Nick Bonino led the way for their team in the deciding sixth game, scoring
all four goals.
On the other side of the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay
Lightning had an easier time with the New York Islanders with a convincing 4-1
series victory. Ben Bishop had a shut-out and was the driving force behind the
Lightning but again, secondary scoring was a key to their success.
The Penguins will advance if they can solve Bishop and the
Lightning will advance if they can solve Matt Murray (and keep Crosby and
Evgeni Malkin in check) but the same, hard checking, supporting players will be
the difference in the series once again.
Currently, in the Western Conference, the superstars that are
paid for the job the they are supposed to do, have done so. Players such as
Jamie Benn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Logan Couture, and Brent Burns are all at the
top of the playoff scoring race. However, they will be the first to say that
their scoring accomplishments come on the backs of their teammates. Going to a
seventh game (or any deciding game) in any round of the NHL Playoffs means that
the entire team has played their hearts out for their hockey brethren.
The superstars of all the respective teams will eventually do
what they do best, which is playing the game they were born to play at the
highest level. There is a reason they are at the top of the hockey universe.
The rest of the team is what makes a team great. The second and
third lines can do more damage to an opposing team in the playoffs than the
first line ever will. They can have a devastating psychological, physical, and
emotional impact on the opposition that the will require the coaches to have to
re-evaluate their defensive game plan. To a coach, this is a very difficult
task, maybe the hardest.
Whether the Sharks or the Predators or the Blues come out on
top of the Western Conference, they will have a tough test against the winner
of the Penguins and LIghtning series.
It will take an entire team effort and anyone can become the
Playoff hockey. Gotta love it.
Labels: Graham Thurgood