It all boils down to the defensive skills of individuals. It then lends support that success involves the team of these committed players to fulfill their respective roles. The ultimate goal is to withstand 60 minutes of pressure, shots and scoring opportunities from some of the greatest offensive players in the regular season.
75% of the teams that score the first goal of the hockey game have gone on and won in their respective series. That timely scoring can never be underestimated and it is one factor that allows the team to build on the confidence factor. The first goal allows the players and the team to release the inert tension early. The hands are loose and the feet become lighter.
Goaltending is where teams can excel and sky rocket to the second round of the playoffs. The first round goaltending has had a few surprises, both good and bad. Where was Brodeur? He was there overall, but did not get much help in front of him. What about Ryan Miller? There has to be some assistance in the goal scoring department as well for the Sabres, if they are ever to move on. The story of the first round was Jaroslav Halak in Montreal. He was absolutely heroic in games 6 & 7 against Washington. Jimmy Howard was simply steady and dependable for the Wings, but Boucher with Philadelphia stepped forward and helps win their series over NJ in 5 games.
Shot Blocking: The Montreal Canadiens were in the series with Washington because of their commitment to defense. It started with the clogging up the neutral zone with the defensive five-man unit. They dedicate their taking away shot lanes and getting bodies in the way. It is a skill that must take courage in one breath and stupidity with another. It is the new NHL and everyone is a goaltender... ask Ian Laperierre of Philly.
Puck Management: Philadelphia, San Jose and Detroit are teams that are stingy in giving up the puck. This is where the Detroit Red Wings have always bee able to gain their confidence when being pressed. Strong on the stick, strong on the body, puck protection and using the quiet areas of the ice to make timely line changes, that is on the offensive side of the game.
On the defensive side of puck management, do not look past the back pressure of the trailing forward on the way back through the neutral and defensive zones. The ability to take away drop passes; the skill of taking away the passing lanes cross ice and the defensive focus on keeping the puck wide and minimizing the center drive to the net.
Face-offs: Boston, Vancouver, San Jose and Chicago rank in the top five of the 16 teams in the playoffs. A true correlation to winning and losing... if you have the puck, then they don't.
These are a few observations from the first round of the playoffs... let's get ready for some more surprises in the second round.
*Throughout the season, AAA will bring you the Broadcaster's Blogs - "Bobby Mac's Blog," "Davidge Dishes" and "Rimer Ramblings." The Columbus Blue Jackets radio and television analysts will try to keep you updated on all the season action through their blogs, especially when the Blue Jackets are on the road.