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The Stanley Cup Playoffs: What To Watch For
Part One: Keys to success in the run for the NHL championship
 More of this Feature
• Stanley Cup Keys, Part 2: The Straw That Stirs The Drink
 Related Resources
• The Stanley Cup Bunker
All your news, resources and Stanley Cup playoff needs.

Think your team has what it takes to emerge victorious from the Stanley Cup derby? See how they match up against this checklist of championship essentials. Incidentally, this list excludes one of the most important playoff factors, good health, because it is self-evident and largely uncontrollable.

1) What A Save!

You don't have to be Toe Blake to figure this one out. The role of the goalie at Stanley Cup time can hardly be overstated. Without star-quality goaltending, even a millionaire's row of superstars is naked and vulnerable.

Goaltenders are under tremendous pressure when spring arrives, and the successful ones thrive on it. At least a couple of times during a championship run the goalie will win a game in which his team mates are vastly outplayed. Conversely, a bad period or soft goal at the wrong time can send a contender into a downward spiral.

Great goaltending performances don't always come from stars like Dominik Hasek or Patrick Roy. A playoff rookie can establish his career with a great April and May, as Roy did in 1986. Or a journeyman might step up and play the series of his life. The big save at the crucial moment has been known to turn the momentum of a game, a series, even the entire Stanley Cup tournament.

2) That Wasn't Supposed to Happen!

At some point, just about every team will allow a bad goal, embarrass itself with a glaring defensive error, get shafted by a referee's mistake or see a leading player crumble to the ice with an injury.

What often decides the outcome of a game or series is how the players respond to these "breaks." Great teams remain stoic in the face of lousy officiating and bad luck. They find a way to fill in when their best defenceman disappears from the bench. They can blow a third period lead and still win in overtime, or play their best hockey two days after losing a game they should have won.

The Detroit Red Wings were in deep trouble after game five of the 2003 Western Conference Final. Colorado had won 3-2 in overtime, leaving the Wings down 3-2 in the series and one game from elimination. Reporters confronted Detroit coach Scotty Bowman with a simmering post-game controversy: replays suggested the winning goal might have been offside. Bowman shrugged, said it looked offside to him but that's the way it goes sometimes, and dismissed the issue. The Red Wings won the next two games and moved on to the Stanley Cup Final.

3) That's Why They're Called Special Teams.

Goals can be hard to come by in the playoffs - final scores of 1-0 or 2-1 are not uncommon - so a team that kills penalties and gets the power play working can usually grab an opponent by the tail. This is another circumstance where goaltending looms large, hence the old saying is that your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer.

In the 2002 opening round, the Toronto Maple Leafs held Ottawa scoreless on 13 power plays, while chipping in three power play goals of their own. Two of those goals came in a close game three victory that essentailly ended Ottawa's hopes.

Next page > The Straw That Stirs The Drink > Page 1, 2

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