What It Takes to Win the Stanley Cup
Every postseason since I started watching hockey (and the Sharks) in 2010, it has never ceased to amaze me how much passion the players put into the sport come playoff time. This is the time of year that, as a player, you want to put everything you have out there. You want to step your game up. Every hit, every shot, every decision you make on every shift counts. And, of course, if you’re a goalie every save matters. This is the time of year that the top performers bring their game to a-whole-nother level.
Yes, every team (players, coaches, etc.) get frustrated when things aren’t going their way. But keep in mind that there’s only one champion at the end. Only 16 teams have a chance in the playoffs, and there are 30 teams in the NHL.
So, I ask the question. What really does it take to win hockey’s Holy Grail? Here are a number of things I’ve seen in the past few postseasons.
There’s an old sports saying that goes “offense wins games; defense wins championships”. That’s never been more true here in the new NHL. Remember back in the old days when scoring 50+ goals in the first couple games in the season seemed like a piece of cake (at least to guys like Wayne Gretzky)? That had a lot to do with how the game was played back then. Of course, those days have now gone out the window. Nowadays, coaches stress on playing tight D, not just from the defense who are supposed to play that role, but the forwards as well.
Rolling On All Fours
Hockey’s a team game. It’s not a one-player deal, and the goalies can’t be stealing every game. Thus, every player has to be active and aware of the situation. It doesn’t matter if you’re a forward or a defenseman. You have to keep your head up on a swivel. Also, it’s very important that everyone communicates so as to reduce the amount of errors during the game. Finally, what this part is really about, while defense is extremely important during the playoffs, offensive depth scoring is just as important. If you don’t get contributions from your third and fourth lines, you’re not going to get very far in the postseason.
There’s no question that every player is dialed in come playoff time. Everyone knows what’s at stake. They have everything to play for, from their season to their own individual pride. So, of course you’d expect them to start blocking shots and being involved every which way they can without being undisciplined.
Goalies are the last line of defense. Whenever there’s a defensive breakdown, they’re the ones who are called on to make the big saves. That’s why goaltending is a HUGE part of the playoffs. You have to have great goaltending if you want to be serious about making a push for the Cup. If you have even decent goaltending, you’re not going to make it.
Finally… Execution & Puck Luck
Whether or not you believe in the Hockey Gods, you have to admit that there is at least some amount of puck luck involved for a team to win the Cup. Yes, the passes have to be tape-to-tape. Yes, the plays have to be direct and straight-forward. They can’t be cute. However, the puck bounces around so much on the ice, especially on bad ice. Sometimes you just have to make your own breaks to create offensive chances.
Of course, there are a variety of other minor and bigger details including face-off wins (which in turn lead to puck possession). But, you don’t need all the analytics in the hockey world to know or realize how hard it is to win a championship in the National Hockey League. For all you new or casual hockey fans, just watch a lot of hockey. Watch Cup-contending teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings and how they play. You’ll know exactly what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.
If any of you other die-hard hockey fans have other factors in mind or want to comment on the few things I’ve touched on, please do! We welcome all comments so long as they’re classy. Constructive criticism is also welcome.