You know the saying “drive for show, putt for dough?” Well, in a way it can apply to hockey as well, with the long 82-game stretch from October to April representing the drive and the short best-of-seven-game bursts in the spring representing the putt. You can have all the success you want in the regular season, but if you flop in, or don’t even make, the post-season all your efforts are spoiled.
When you measure the best quarterbacks in football against one another, the amount of Super Bowls won is perhaps the most important gauge. The same goes in hockey: Alex Ovechkin has more major awards than Sidney Crosby, but does Crosby’s Stanley Cup (and two final appearances) give him the edge? As Ovechkin himself once said “Cups is Cups.”
We’re used to seeing some players in the post-season year after year. We’re used to seeing Nicklas Lidstrom calmly leading the Red Wings through a couple rounds and adding to his Hall of Fame legacy. We’re used to seeing Joe Thornton heading in with a good team and heading out much too early. We’re used to seeing the Nashville Predators scratch and claw their way in with an underwhelming roster, but not quite be able to make it past Round 1.
There are still roughly 30 games to go for each NHL squad, but of all the players sitting on teams outside of their conference’s top eight right now, who would you most like to see in the post-season?
Before he signed his eight-year extension with the Blue Jackets in July of 2009 a lot of people were wondering if the superstar would leave the middling franchise after the 2009-10 season, even though Columbus was coming off its first post-season appearance. That talk was quickly quashed and Captain Nash will be with Columbus for the foreseeable future.
But instead of building on its 2008-09 success, Columbus has fallen into old habits. Nash, who is the premier power forward in the game today, notched a goal and three points in that four-game sweep to the hands of Detroit in what has been his only post-season through seven years in the NHL. Because he plays in a small market on a team with little success, Nash hasn’t been appreciated on a grand scale yet. The first overall pick from 2002 is a sniper, a force and a joy to watch dominate down low. While the Jackets are six points out in the tough Western Conference, making a playoff appearance a difficult task, it would be great to have Nash in the springtime so we can see just where he’d bring his game to the second time around.
The story of last year’s post-season is adjusting to life as a full-time starter on a St. Louis team that has struggled mightily with injuries all season. Key players T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald have returned, so that should help right the ship when Halak himself comes back from an upper-body injury.
Was last year’s astonishing streak a fluke or the beginning of a career narrative based around crunch time dominance? The Blues have a long road and a seven-point deficit to make up from the 14th spot in the West, but if they are able to make the turnaround it would cause any highly ranked first round opponent to worry.
Perhaps the best chance for Vokoun to make the playoffs is if he’s traded before the Feb. 28 deadline. The former Nashville netminder has 11 career post-season games under his belt - all with the Predators - and has a glittering .922 SP and 2.47 GAA in those games. Unfortunately, he also has a 3-8 record and hasn’t yet seen Round 2.
Is Vokoun one of those goalies who can pull a Halak? Since the lockout, when the game opened up and scoring rose, Vokoun has still posted at least a .919 SP each season. He’s one of the most consistent goalies around and, at 34, we don’t have much longer to find out if he can lead a team through a few rounds or if he’s more like Evgeni Nabokov.
With 56 games behind them, the Thrashers have played three more than the team they’re currently tied in eighth with, but they remain the best bet of any team listed here. And who doesn’t want to see ‘Big Buff’ return to the playoffs as a defenseman?
Last year he may have been the most-talked about player next to Halak and his battles in front of Philadelphia’s net with Chris Pronger and in front of Vancouver’s with Roberto Luongo made for great theatre. At forward, Byfuglien was good at distracting opponents on a team with plenty of scoring talent, so he was, more than anything, a complementary piece.
With Atlanta, though, he’ll be a key player on the blueline. Even though he has one point in his past 14 games he’s still the team’s scoring leader. But if Atlanta makes the post-season, will Byfuglien be able to have the same type of impact as last year in a different capacity or will Tobias Enstrom be the best on the back end?
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His blog appears Tuesdays only on THN.com.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.