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Isles' Lacroix enjoying playoffs

by Adam Kimelman

"I think it's the importance of depth on teams. ...To be successful in the NHL and win Stanley Cups, you need total team commitment."
-- Dan Lacroix

One of the more interested observers of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been New York Islanders assistant coach Dan Lacroix.

A veteran of 16 NHL playoff games during a career that lasted from 1993-2000, including a run to the 1997 Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Lacroix understands the enormity of the work needed to win a Stanley Cup.

He said the biggest thing he learned is that star power only will carry a team so far in the postseason.

"I think it's the importance of depth on teams," Lacroix told "It's the importance of playing together and how the third and fourth line, your role players, that fourth, fifth defenseman, and in some cases that backup goaltender (play). How solid are teams from not only the top six forwards and top four defensemen? To be successful in the NHL and win Stanley Cups, you need total team commitment.

"You need to score by committee. Have your role players score big goals at the right time. If you rely on your power play, if you rely on your No. 1 or 2 lines, sometimes, especially on the road, it's tougher. Those two lines are going to play against the top four defensemen. You need the secondary scoring to come into play."

Lacroix said one of the series he's enjoyed watching has been the battle between the Devils and Hurricanes. Carolina entered the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the League, and it's carried over as the 'Canes have forced a Game 7 in the series.

"It's no surprise it's a seven-game series, looking into how Carolina came into the playoffs, doing so well down the stretch," said Lacroix.

Lacroix said it isn't just their great play down the stretch that has carried Carolina, and Pittsburgh, another team that entered the playoffs red-hot, to first-round success.

"I think it's certainly a position you want to be in," he said. "You want your team to be doing well going into the playoffs, you want your special teams to be on top of their game. But at the same time, once you're in a seven-game series, it's a new ballgame. I think you get momentum, but reality strikes pretty quick for some of these teams."

That reality struck for Montreal, St. Louis and Columbus, who were swept out of the playoffs. So does that give Boston, Vancouver and Detroit, the respective sweepers, an advantage over whichever team they face next? Or can too much time off be detrimental? The other five series will go at least six games, meaning those teams can carry their winning feelings directly into the next round.

"You need the rest to rest the bodies later in the playoffs," said Lacroix, "but your team needs to be tested. For the most part, you see the true character when the backs are to the wall. The players have to play their best. If your players are going to be your best players at those instances, you'd rather find out early than late."

The best players so far, in his opinion, have been a pair of young goaltenders -- Simeon Varlamov of the Capitals and the Ducks' Jonas Hiller.

"The guys we didn't expect from the East and the West that came through are the two young goaltenders, Varlamov in Washington, nobody knows much about. And you look out West with the way Anaheim has been playing, Hiller has been outstanding for them."

Rather than it being a gamble in playing a young netminder, Lacroix said it could be an advantage.

"I think there's a slight advantage to a rookie coming in," he said. "He's got less to process in his mind on all these shooters and different situations. I think you look at it, young guys that do relatively well when they don't know much about the opposition and focus on their play. Patrick Roy is Patrick Roy, but he also won a Cup as a rookie goaltender coming out of junior and playing in Sherbrooke (AHL) the year before and then winning the Cup. And there's examples of goalies like that, like (Cam) Ward in Carolina. ... It works both ways -- he doesn't know much on the shooters and the shooters don't know much on him. Teams don't have great scouting reports on these guys."

Lacroix plans on watching as much as he can to build his own scouting reports.

"I'm really looking forward to the Game 7s (Tuesday) and see the matchups that are going to happen in the next round," he said. "Lot of times, points and wins in the season don't mean as much as matchups personnel-wise. It'll be interesting to see who the Bruins get to face, and who between Washington and the Rangers can get through."

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