Look west and you’ll see a new crop of Stanley Cup challengers pushing through to the second round. You’ll see that three of the four higher seeds won, though they might have been regarded as underdogs by many for their lack of playoff pedigree.
Look west and you’ll also see four great coaches advancing to Round 2.
Sure, the four bench bosses who were defeated on the left coast have their own impressive track records, but Darryl Sutter, Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippett and Barry Trotz have done wonders with underdogs – and it’s not the first time for any of them.
Remember when Sutter’s December arrival in Los Angeles was met with schoolyard quips from some corners? Well, he took that 15-14-4 team and went 25-13-11 the rest of the way. Sutter’s system flourishes with a strong goalie, which is how he took the Calgary Flames, with Miikka Kiprusoff, to the Stanley Cup final in 2003-04. It’s worth noting Sutter only coached one season between that run and this season.
Ken Hitchcock’s job in St. Louis has him as the favorite for the Jack Adams Award, but he also had monster success in Dallas – where he won a Cup – one good run in Philadelphia and turned a mediocre Columbus team into a playoff outfit for one season.
Dave Tippett, who won 50 games twice in Dallas, has done a miraculous job since coming to the owner-challenged Coyotes. While they’re often described as defensive, they allow a ton of shots, a figure that’s been climbing each year since Tippett arrived. A more apt description of the team is that they’re well-disciplined: the team’s PIM/G have dropped each year since Tippett’s arrival. The way the team stays committed to their coach’s system is another sign of discipline.
And then there’s Barry Trotz, the coach you can’t help but root for. His body of work is long and distinguished and we’ve all been waiting for his team to break through in the post-season. It really is a travesty he hasn’t won a Jack Adams yet.
Discipline, systems and goalies allow these teams to be successful. Detroit, and Vancouver averaged less than two goals per game in the first round, while Chicago averaged two on the nose.
So, the big picture here is, if you rely on goals to enjoy a hockey game and are one of the people calling for bigger nets or any other rule to spoon feed pucks into the net, you better be cheering for a team in the Eastern Conference. The NHL, like most sports leagues, is full of copycats. A certain type of team wins the Cup one year and other teams design themselves to matchup with that style the next.
If one of these four Western teams ends up as champion, especially after the early exits of the Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit and San Jose firepowers, it will be interesting to see how other teams react in the off-season.
With the surges from the Rangers, Blues and Devils in the regular season – based on stifling defensive systems – the groundwork has been laid for this design. If one of the remaining Western teams is crowned champion in June, watch out goal-lovers.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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