Dan Bylsma has learned one important lesson about the chase for the Stanley Cup.
“You can do everything right and that doesn’t mean you’re going to win,” the Pittsburgh Penguins coach said Wednesday.
Bylsma has had some time to reflect on Pittsburgh’s championship run last spring and acknowledges things could have gone differently. The Penguins had to win a Game 7 on the road in Washington in the second round before doing the same thing in the Stanley Cup final against Detroit.
“There’s a certain amount of fortitude and a certain amount of perserverance that it takes to get through four rounds and win,” Bylsma said on a conference call. “You need to have a good team, good players, people need to rise to the occasion. It is so difficult.
“You look back to last year – at any given moment in numerous different games it could have all changed because of one play or one situation.”
The Penguins have three regular-season games remaining before opening their title defence next week.
They aren’t likely to enter the Stanley Cup tournament as favourites to repeat. Pittsburgh went a combined 0-8-2 against Eastern Conference rivals Washington and New Jersey this season and Bylsma openly admits the team has struggled to find its top level.
“We’re not happy with how we’ve played and getting to our game throughout the year,” said Bylsma. “We know we’ve been a little inconsistent with it. … We have not gotten to the consistency we know we’re going to need.”
They continue to deal with some injuries. Evgeni Malkin has missed 15 games this season and sat out Tuesday’s loss to Washington with an illness while Chris Kunitz remains sidelined with an undisclosed ailment.
Bylsma also believes some of the focus has been missing and he’s sought out advice from repeat champions in the past, including members of Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup teams in 1991 and 1992.
During those conversations, he’s often received conflicting pieces of information. It’s led him to believe that teams react differently to winning a championship.
“I can tell you there’s not a real good book on what the year’s going to be like and what it’s going to like in the playoffs,” said Bylsma. “There’s not a distinct picture from one person that says, ‘Hey, this is how it’s going to be.’
“Definitely I’ve sought out advice, definitely I’ve taken some advice, definitely (I’ve) used some of the things I’ve talked to people about, but I know our experience has been a little bit different.”
The Penguins have played a lot of hockey over the past couple seasons, losing to Detroit in the Stanley Cup final in 2008 before winning last spring. The core of the team remains largely unchanged and there’s a hope among the group that it can rise to the occasion once again.
Bylsma wants to see that start happening immediately. The Penguins play their final regular-season game at Mellon Arena against the Islanders on Wednesday before finishing the year with road games in Atlanta and Long Island.
It doesn’t leave the team very much time to get its act together.
“The playoffs is ramped up and that’s something we’re accustomed to because of our past but we haven’t been great at getting to so far this season,” said Bylsma. “That urgency level is going to come.
“The question is are we going to be a team that can draw upon our past and get to that level and know what it is and have success going forward in the playoffs?”
It will be one of the major storylines in the post-season. Bylsma is quick to stress that any of the teams that qualify for the playoffs have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
“I know 16 teams are going to get a try for it and 15 are going to go home disappointed,” he said. “That doesn’t mean the 15 teams couldn’t have (won it), didn’t deserve it, didn’t try, didn’t do the right things.
“Only one team can come through that marathon and those games and those battles.”