Watch an NHL playoff game and you will realize that each game that is played seems to be the momentum turner for the winning team. How many times have we seen a team up 2-0 in a series only to lose game three. All of sudden, the calls of "they couldn't close the deal" or "they had their chance to put this series away" have we heard after all of a sudden the team is only up 2-1.
In the late eighties and nineties, teams that were down 1-3 came back to force or even win game seven on numerous occasions. The best example of a team learning about what it takes to win 4 rounds in the playoffs were the 1982-83 Edmonton Oilers. With a plethora of young superstars such as Messier, Lowe, Coffey, Anderson, Kurri and oh yes # 99 himself, Wayne Gretzky, the Oilers were pegged to be the team that could finally dethrone the reigning 3 time champion Islanders.
What the Oilers learned from that series was that grit and determination was what was needed to win the coveted Stanley Cup. After a gritty game four that saw the Islanders make it 3-1 in the Finals that year, some of the Oilers had passed by the Islander dressing room after the game and looked at these beaten up, tired old men - the likes of Trottier, Gillies, Nystrom and Bossy - icing down sore knees and shoulders. What they took from that was that these guys played to the maximum of their capacity and were able to simply overwhelm the young Edmontonians for 60 minutes of gruelling hockey.
When the puck dropped for Game 5, the Oilers were already beat. New York made the best of their chances and stuck to a game plan that ensured they would not make mistakes for Edmonton to capitalize on. The Islanders went on to win Cup # 4 and at the same time hand over the torch to Edmonton.
From that game Edmonton's young kids got a little older, a lot wiser and New York eventually got too old to withstand the pains of 4 rounds of hockey. That year, 1984, Edmonton won its first of 5 Stanley Cup titles. It took them 15 wins to do it.
Now a team winning a Championship needs 16 wins to make it happen. Who will withstand the pressure packed competition of the playoffs this year. There is no clear front runner and that is why these NHL playoffs make for the best sports entertainment in spring.
Next week - First Round Playoff predictions