The Pittsburgh Penguins knocked off the Washington Capitals in seven games and will now face the upstart Carolina Hurricanes. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)
In the dying embers of the Penguins series win over the Capitals the other night, the Hockey Night in Canada crew mused about the reasons for Pittsburgh’s triumph.
They suggested the Pens were “hungrier,” that their Stanley Cup final loss to Detroit last year helped prepare them for success this year. It was the old “you gotta lose to know how to win” theory.
Perhaps. But the data suggests otherwise.
The Stanley Cup hangover has had a profound impact on the loser for more than a decade. Entering this season, the past 11 Cup losers had combined to win one playoff round the subsequent season. That was the Dallas Stars in 2001. The rest either were banished in the first round or failed to qualify for the post-season altogether. That’s a trend, not a coincidence.
Psychologically, it stands to reason. Getting so very close to your ultimate goal after two gruelling months of sacrifice, only to have it snuffed out, has to be a huge emotional setback. It takes special character to duplicate that energy and heart knowing it could lead to another massive disappointment.
That’s where Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and other returning Penguins come in. Huge kudos to them for beating the odds and coming up large – again.
What shouldn’t be overlooked, however, is the new blood. Ten of the players who were dressed for Game 7 against Washington were not in the lineup for the Game 6 Cup final setback to Detroit. That’s half the roster, namely: Mark Eaton, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotenko, Craig Adams, Philippe Boucher, Miro Satan, Kris Letang (healthy scratch last year) and Mathieu Garon.
And, most importantly, there was a new voice behind the bench in rising star coach Dan Bylsma.
Last summer, I suggested the Pens’ saving grace might be roster turnover, a large injection of players who didn’t have to swallow that bitter pill against the Wings, guys who shouldn’t have to guard against complacency.
Led by Bylsma, their contributions may not have been superstar-large on the scoresheet, but they supplied enough “hunger” to help push the marquee players over the top.
A few other thoughts before we enter Round 3:
• Love Alex Ovechkin and the excitement he generates. I’m puzzled, however, at the latitude he is given on the leave-his-feet bodychecks. Isn’t that supposed to be a penalty every time? Sir Launch-a-lot went airborne more times than we can count in the playoffs, but we never saw him called for it.
• I have received about a dozen news releases from the NHL since Scott Walker punched Aaron Ward in the face. I’m still waiting for the one that explains why the automatic one-game suspension was rescinded.
• As the composite stick issue heats up, know this: an across-the-board return to wooden sticks would inevitably be followed by a decline in scoring, because: 1. We’d see fewer laser beams beating goalies; 2. We’d see fewer penalties called for a player slashing and breaking an opponent’s stick; 3. We’d see fewer sticks blowing up, leading directly to goals by the other team. I’m not advocating against the wooden stick, I’m just sayin’ is all.
• The playoffs have confirmed the best subtle rule change in recent years is the faceoff in the zone of the offending team following every penalty call. Whoever suggested it deserves a raise.
• I’m all in favor of a seventh team in Canada, but Hamilton wouldn’t be at the top of my list. Based predominantly on gut feel, it’d be fifth behind Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto and Quebec City.
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Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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