Every division is now into the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games on Monday night. While things have changed in the NHL, some things still stay the same. And the one thing that is staying the same is that a good defence will stop a good offence any day of the week. Just look at the top players that got ousted in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All of them ran into a good defence in the first round of the playoffs. The open ice these players had in the regular season shrunk once the playoffs began. It is interesting how teams adjusted to the skill and speed of these players. Along with looking at how great defence won in the first round, let’s take a look at what else we learned from the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Observations
NHL Is Not Like The NBA
Unlike the NBA, where it is about all two or three guys carrying a team in the playoffs. The NHL is a team game. Each team in the playoffs relies on four lines playing hard and you never know who will contribute on a nightly basis. Now the better teams expect their best players to perform when the spotlight is the brightest. However, in the case of the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs those players did not exactly perform to their standards. That is a credit to their opponents for designing a system to effectively take out their best players. And that strategy goes back a long way.
Just look at what the New Jersey Devils did during their championship runs. They had a checking line go up against the other team’s best players. And it worked for them. Regardless if it was Claude Lemieux or John Madden. Those two players shut down the opposition. Flip to 2021, and that narrative is still playing out. Just look at what Philip Danault was able to do against Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Danault held those two players to one goal in the series. Now the Maple Leafs expected more from both players especially in Game 7, but Montreal used their game plan of making the other guys beat to perfection.
It was the same strategy Winnipeg used against Edmonton. The Jets smothered Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in their four-game sweep as well. They had that duo to nine points in four games. All those points came towards the end of the series. And their defence did an excellent job of making the depth of the Oilers beat the Jets. And Edmonton did not come up with the goods. It goes to show you that two players or one line can’t win in the playoffs.
Depth Matters In The Playoffs
When it comes to the playoffs, depth matters. As noted above, you need for than one line to win the playoffs and the good teams know that. Just look at the remaining teams in the playoffs. All pretty much have four lines that can score and be physical to change the direction of a game or a series. Tampa Bay found out the hard way, they just can’t rely on skill to win. Toronto has found out the hard way these past two seasons now. Colorado and Boston were known for having one line. But this year, both teams have multiple lines that can score. Especially the Bruins with the addition of Taylor Hall. The Bruins are a much more dangerous team with their second line. But sometimes it isn’t the top guys that don’t always score and that is why you need depth. That is what carried the New York Islanders to the second round. It is the guys at the bottom of a team’s lineup that win the playoffs.
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Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Does Not Work Hard
The cliche is as old as time itself. Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard. Every team that has made it to the second round had to outwork their opponent. Maybe the only exception is the Avalanche. But at times during their four-game sweep of St. Louis, they were tested by the Blues. But teams like the Jets, Canadiens, Islanders, Golden Knights, Bruins, Lightning, and Hurricanes all had to outwork their opponents. Especially the Hurricanes who played in multiple overtime games against Nashville. That is because of their depth and defence. The hard work these teams put in off the ice and in practice goes along to their success in the playoffs.
Just look at the way teams like the Islanders, Jets, Hurricanes, Lightning, and Canadiens all play. If you look at their defensive system it is really similar. All play a variation of the neutral zone trap. While it is boring it is effective because it wins. All these teams have skilled players, especially the Lightning, but the one thing they all have in common is working hard. And it will be that hard work that guides of one these teams to the final four.
The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs roll on with the second round. Stay tuned for more weekly notebooks and observations.