Each Friday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, series, plays, trends or really four of whatever from the playoffs that have caught his eye.
This week's Friday Four blog is all about team identities and sticking to them in the playoffs, no matter what.
Here we go …
1. Chicago is doing whatever it takes
The Chicago Blackhawks are just so committed to winning. For all the assets they have -- the personnel, the great players, the stars, the future Hall of Fame members -- just look at Game 3 against the Minnesota Wild. It gives you a key insight and window into how committed they are to winning.
The Blackhawks are willing to do all the little things. If you look at the faceoffs in Game 3, they were 37-22 in favor of Chicago. If you look at the blocked shots, they were 19-10 in favor of Chicago. In hearing Patrick Kane speak, he said, "We knew that we might not have that many chances." That's a team that has all the personnel, and when you look at other teams that don't have that personnel and don't work as hard without the puck, it says a lot. It really does.
It's a clinic for everybody else. If you're another team, or another player, and you see the commitment from Marian Hossa and Kane and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp and all these guys, really? If those guys can do it, there's no excuse for anybody else.
2. Calgary is young and fearless
The Calgary Flames showed some mental toughness in Game 3 against the Anaheim Ducks, and it was indicative of the mental toughness they've shown all season.
When you look at them being down for much of that game; the Sam Bennett no-goal had to be tough for them to take. But they've been resilient and persistent all year; they bend but they don't break. To me, that says a lot, especially for such a young team.
For Johnny Gaudreau to tie it up as late as he did, and then for Mikael Backlund, another young player, to get the overtime winner, there's just so much to like about that young team. They're going up against Anaheim, which to that point had been the hottest team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; the Ducks have looked awesome. For me, for Calgary to come down and score that equalizer after the disallowed goal and then win it in overtime; again, it just speaks to the mental toughness of their group, which is really saying something given their inexperience.
3. Washington is becoming hard to play against
The Washington Capitals have some Los Angeles Kings in their game right now.
The Kings are a hybrid hockey/football team. For this Washington team to play the way it is right now, it's like the Capitals are doing the same thing. They're playing a lot of that style, and that's the ultimate compliment you can pay them, especially with the Kings having won two of the past three Stanley Cups. The simple fact that everybody talks about how hard it is to play the Kings because of their "heavy game" and how nasty and how physical they play, it kind of says something when the Capitals are doing a lot of those same things.
It's a style that wears down the opposing team because it's hard to play against that. You have to work so much harder every night. You have to work so much harder to earn space, or earn a gap, or earn time. You have to go through a body or not, and if not, there's the fear that a body will be there.
4. Tampa Bay is encouraged to make plays
The key for the Tampa Bay Lightning is how they can attack and how they can make plays.
Ben Bishop is back to playing at an elite level again in goal. Since the elimination game in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings he's looked really good, and he's found his groove since then. It's extremely critical for any team to have its goalie play well, but specifically when you're a team that can attack the way Tampa Bay does.
You can see why the Lightning were the highest-scoring team in the NHL during the regular season. There are just so many weapons. But it's not just having the weapons, it's also having a staff that encourages you.
Some coaches like to be more conservative and say, 'Well, that's too flashy.' But there's none of that with coach Jon Cooper and assistants Steve Thomas and Rick Bowness. They just tell their players to go play and make plays. You don't get that silliness that you hear people say sometimes.
Just make plays; it's sports. The Lightning are empowered to do just that, and it certainly makes a big difference for the players. It makes a big difference being empowered to make plays and not to be restricted offensively.