NHL Road to the Playoffs

Gigi Scibetta, Staff reporter

Fans across the nation waited anxiously as their favorite NHL teams played their last few games for a set playoffs spot, which started on April 12.

The NHL sends 16 teams to the playoffs for the Stanley Cup. The playoffs are made up of the top three teams in the division: Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central and Pacific. Aside from the top three teams, the Wild Card teams have a spot in the playoffs, according to the Official site of the NHL.
All throughout the season, many fans try to guess who will win the Stanley Cup; their stress only escalates as the playoffs draw nearer.

Sophomore Michael Pawlowski, a Chicago Blackhawks fan, said many of the playoff rounds will be very tough.

“I expect [the rounds] to go to game six or seven a lot,” said Pawlowski.

Pawloski added the games will always be unpredictable with final scores being very closely.

Many of the teams entering the playoffs have their own histories, good and bad, of how they have performed in the playoffs, which all can change in the upcoming season.

The Chicago Blackhawks are known to do poorly in the last couple of games leading up to the playoff spot selection. In the past couple of seasons, the Blackhawks only won five out of their 13 games in March.

Still, the Chicago dynasty was able to clinch their spot in the playoffs. Their defense lacked, usually letting in several goals in a game or a struggling offense getting goals in the net.

Now that the initial rounds are set to be played, many fans are guessing who will do well.

“I’d put my money on the Hawks,” said St. Louis Blues fan Tom Kuhn, social studies teacher.

And yet the results ended very differently with the Blues moving on while the Hawks stayed behind.

In the NHL, many teams often rise in the playoffs no matter how much of a rollercoaster their season was before.

The two final teams in the Stanley Cup finals last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks, were not the top three teams in the league at the end of the season.

This pattern could mean that leading teams like the Dallas Stars and the Washington Capitals have uncertain futures.  It’s important to note, too, that the Washington Capitals, number one in the Metropolitan division and Eastern Conference, are the recipients of the Presidents’ Trophy. The trophy is awarded to the team that ends the regular season with the most points.

Being at the top can work in a team’s favor. In the 2012-2013 season, the Blackhawks had a 24-game winning streak, which boosted their confidence throughout the playoffs and eventually led to them winning the Stanley Cup.

This 2015-2016 season, the Washington Capitals had a nine-game winning streak.

Hockey is a very physical sport, and some players take man-to-man contact very intense. And a player can never know when an injury will occur.

Many teams could face bigger issues with their players who hit the ice. Injuries, illnesses and trades can take a toll on many teams, creating large issues.

The Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues have been lucky with minimal injuries on their teams in the regular season, but that can’t always be good when those players have played 82-straight games.

“[Injured players] have all had their rest, unlike the Blues who haven’t had injuries,” Kuhn said.

Going into the playoffs with a full-season goalie might be tough since it is hard to know when their bodies might give out.

In the last few weeks of the regular season, starting goalie Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks was out on an upper-body injury with vertigo symptoms. It can be alarming for the Blackhawks’ goalie to be out, but if the injury were going to happen, it was better that Crawford injured himself then rather than during the playoffs.

The Dallas Stars lost several players due to injuries recently.

Junior Delaney Appelhans, an avid Stars fan, was a bit alarmed by these injuries.

“Certain players in the league have been sustaining recently, such as Jason Demers from the Dallas Stars. Those can affect teams drastically,” said Appelhans.

When a player gets hurt, that can change up skating lines, made up of three forwards that the coaches believe work best with each other to score on the opposing team.

The Chicago Blackhawks also saw a revolving door of players throughout the season. Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman worked hard finding the perfect team for the Chicago Blackhawks.

One of the biggest pick ups of the team was past 2009-2010 Blackhawks member Andrew Ladd.
In a press conference while in Dallas on Feb. 11, Ladd said, “I knew I was going to be traded, and Chicago was on the top of my list.”

One aspect of the playoffs that every team wants is home-ice advantage, which gives them a bit of confidence going into their first game.

On April 7, the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks played the game that decided who would become second in the Central Division.

The Blackhawks needed to win the game in regulation time in order to have a point on the Blues, which would bump them up from third place and would clinch a home-ice advantage. All was in the Blackhawks’ favor until less than two minutes left when St. Louis Blues player, Vladimir Tarasenko, scored.

With a tied game of 1-1, the Blackhawks lost home-ice advantage for the first round of playoffs. Maybe this was an omen of what was to come.