If you’ve spent any time watching junior hockey, you know no lead is safe.
Big leads with three minutes left? Pfft. Games that are 4-1 can end 5-4 for the trailing team in regulation. Not to mention playoff series are never over, no matter how lopsided the early games may have been.
Why? Well, a number of reasons. The talent disparity between players can be huge, the age of the players leaves them prone to emotional swings and - of course - they’re inexperienced. They haven’t been-there-done-that, and until they have, it’s tough to understand just how important it is to find a way to think clearly through the din.
Enter: the 2015 NHL playoffs.
Over the past half-dozen seasons or so, you’d look at the 16 teams going into the playoffs and think, “OK, one of X, Y, or Z will realistically win the Cup, or at the very least, be in the Final.” Boston, LA, Chicago, Pittsburgh and going back further, Detroit, were kinda those teams.
They had been there, they had done that. And one of them was going to do it again. They had cores that had seen it and they had coaches who’d accomplished it.
I think you know which water I’m leading you towards here, savvy horse: those teams are basically nowhere to be seen this season. I mean, save for the Blackhawks, who are coming off three straight losses and at times this season have looked decidedly un-Blackhawklike, who ya got?
The Flames haven’t been in the playoffs since ‘09 and their core has an average age of “can name songs by One Direction.” The Jets haven’t been in the playoffs since 1338 or so (ballpark). The Canucks are in after a year away and have a new coach. The Sens might be in with a guy who’s been the head coach for about a microwave-bag-of-popcorn worth of time. The Preds are in for the first time since 2012. You get the gist.
Not one of the squads above has a coach that has been in the playoffs with their current team. Which brings us back to junior hockey, inexperience and wild swings.
It’s a cliche, sure, but it exists for a reason: playoffs are an emotional roller coaster. You really do have to avoid the highs and lows after good shifts and bad, goals for and against, wins and losses. Otherwise you’ll drain yourself mentally, which inhibits you from being at your best for the length of playoffs, which don’t end until mid-freaking-June. It can be exhausting.
Veteran players who’ve been-there-done-that understand it better than anyone. Being down after the first doesn’t mean we will be after the second, being down today doesn’t mean we will be tomorrow. You just put your head down and get back to work and leave the past in the past.
And while it’s easy to say these things, it’s an awful lot harder to believe them when you haven’t plowed through it before. It’s one of the few reasons I can’t bring myself to pick against Chicago in the West heading into the postseason. Did you see the interviews with guys like Ondrej Pavelec and Jiri Hudler after they clinched playoff berths yesterday? They were damn near in tears already.
I think with the unique grouping of teams riding into the postseason battle, we’re going to see complete chaos: 6-0 blowout wins, series comebacks of multiple games and general in-game explosions of emotions. In short, I think playoffs are going to be awesome.
Teams that have been there before - the Rangers and Blackhawks spring to mind first - should have some advantage as they move deeper into the playoffs. Their biggest tests will be weathering the unadulterated excitement and energy from teams taking their first real kicks at the postseason can, who will inevitably come flying out of their respective gates like a bunch of Tasmanian devils all hopped up on Mountain Dew.
Predictions are going to be near impossible this year and anybody who nails it in round one should buy a lottery ticket. There’s too many variables, too many moving parts and too many wait-and-sees ahead.
Sitting here today, the only solid prediction I’ve been able to come up with so far is simple: the 2015 NHL playoffs are going to be shitshow.