The contention often advanced by playoff prognosticators that
teams undermine their postseason performance by playing poorly
down the stretch is poppycock. A review of Stanley Cup finalists
from the past five years uncovers many who have stumbled before
they've raced through the playoffs, including last year's
champion Red Wings, who closed the season 2-3-3, and runner-up
Flyers (2-3-2); the 1996 runner-up Panthers (3-6-1); the '95
champion Devils (2-4-1); and the '93 champion Canadiens (2-5)
and runner-up Kings (2-3-1).
The poor finish by Peter Forsberg and Colorado doesn't
portend playoff trouble.
(David E. Klutho)
Part of the reason that teams like these finish poorly is that
clubs whose playoff spots are assured early hold out valuable
players with even the slightest of injuries from late
regular-season games. (This year the Avalanche, who closed the
season 3-6-1, and the Penguins, 4-4-2, were essentially locked
into the second seed in their respective conferences for the
last month.) Coaches also rest their healthy stars by spreading
around ice time down the stretch.
More subtly, players who have an eye on the Cup can have a
difficult time sustaining intensity before the postseason.
"There's just no way to replicate the playoff atmosphere in the
regular season," says Colorado coach Marc Crawford. "You pace
yourself during the season, and you pick certain spots for a big
push. In the playoffs you let it all out on every shift. It's a
That helps explain why so many other seeming harbingers of
playoff success prove irrelevant. For instance, the Western
Conference champion Stars and the Eastern Conference champion
Devils should be aware that in the past eight seasons only three
of the 16 conference champs advanced to the Cup finals. "We know
that winning the conference doesn't mean a whole lot," says
Dallas defenseman Derian Hatcher, "but every player here wanted
home ice advantage."
Still, the fact remains that the regular season is little more
than a long and inconsequential pageant. It also points up one
of the exciting aspects of the postseason: The journey to the
Stanley Cup proves all the more captivating because it is so
Issue date: April 27, 1998