NHL in midst of stressful stretch

 

 
 
 
 
St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott watches as a puck shot by Vancouver Canucks' Nick Bonino slips into the net for a goal during the second period. The Canucks won 4-1.
 

St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott watches as a puck shot by Vancouver Canucks' Nick Bonino slips into the net for a goal during the second period. The Canucks won 4-1.

Photograph by: Jeff Roberson, AP

More on This Story

 

ST. LOUIS – If you think the Stanley Cup playoffs are stressful, try making them.

With only 16 points separating the first and last qualifiers before Monday’s games, the National Hockey League playoff field has never been as compressed as it will likely be this season. Ask 10 people to name the team to beat, and you’ll get six or seven different answers.

“I think if you talked honestly to a lot of coaches, the regular season is as stressful as anything and we’re all looking forward to getting into the pressure part,” St. Louis Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock said before his team faced the Vancouver Canucks here Monday. “The stress is gone (in the playoffs). I’ve got to tell you for a lot of us, when I talk to coaches, when you’re looking at the standings four or five times a day, you’re watching games you don’t normally watch, that’s stressful. I think for a lot of coaches, this is going to be the life that we live now. You’re going to have to get used to working in that atmosphere.”

The bottom 12 teams holding playoff spots were packed within a 10-point span in the standings before Monday’s NHL schedule. The difference between most teams come playoff time will be negligible, a matter of a couple of wins or losses here or there over the course of six months.

In the Blues’ formidable Central Division, 12 points separated five teams that could make the playoffs. The Blues were second at 99 points, three behind the Nashville Predators.

The Canucks, who visit Nashville Tuesday night, were second in the Pacific Division with 91 points.

“I don’t know how Vegas can pick a favourite,” Canuck defenceman Kevin Bieksa said. “There are a lot of teams that could win the Stanley Cup. Out of 16 teams, you have to think at least 10 have a legitimate chance of winning it. We hope to be one of those 10, but we have to get in first.

“I don’t think the seedings matter like they used to. The one versus eight, two versus seven in the old days, it used to be an enormous upset if the seventh or eighth seed won. I don’t think any team that finishes first feels that way anymore. I think everyone approaches it the same: just get in, and then after that you have to beat one team to move on.”

Last season, the gap between the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins and final playoff qualifier, the Dallas Stars, was 26 points.

Pro-rating the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the gap between first and 16th would have been 37 points. The year before it was 19 points – the least disparity between the first and last playoff qualifier since the salary-cap era began in 2005 and evened the NHL field.

The average gap the last decade has been 25 points.

Hitchcock believes the days of a 120-point team are probably over.

“Look, we’ve got 99 points and a lot of things have gone right for us,” he said. “And I’ve seen everything with other teams like Nashville, how many things have gone right for them. I think it’s really difficult to get up there (to 120 points). There’s not much difference between at least a dozen teams in the conference right now.

“I don’t want to choose who I want to play (in the first round) because who I want to play is in last place. There are teams that are out of the playoffs right now, they’ve got to think they had a chance at the start of the year or halfway through the year to win the conference. And they’re not going to make the playoffs.”

With so little between teams, Hitchcock said health in the playoffs will be paramount.

“You want to go into the playoffs feeling good about yourselves,” Bieksa said. “Feeling strong, on a couple of games winning streak would be nice. You want to play your best hockey coming down the stretch.”

And hope there’s something left in the tank after that.

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott watches as a puck shot by Vancouver Canucks' Nick Bonino slips into the net for a goal during the second period. The Canucks won 4-1.
 

St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott watches as a puck shot by Vancouver Canucks' Nick Bonino slips into the net for a goal during the second period. The Canucks won 4-1.

Photograph by: Jeff Roberson, AP

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice