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Heating up at playoff time: Is it worth it?

Updated: Apr 17

Ray Bourque on the left lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time with Joe Sakic in 2001
Ray Bourque (left) and Joe Sakic (right) in 2001 at Pepsi Center

Image Credits: Deve Sandford, HHOF Images

As we take a look at some of the most recent Stanley Cup winners, we notice that there isn't much of a difference in between being a winner and a loser. However, many of us believe that if our team does not have the best team heading into the playoffs, that a hot streak is necessary. Though it isn't necessarily true, it can be said that if you are an inferior team that has struggled throughout the season, it is beneficial to go on a good winning streak.

Of the teams over the past 10 years that won Cups, the 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins, 2017-18 Washington Capitals, 2018-19 St. Louis Blues, and the 2022-23 Vegas Golden Knights are the only 4 to have gone on insane post-deadline runs leading up to Game 1 of the First Round. Those were teams that had something to battle for. The Penguins fired their coach and were out of the playoffs when they did, the Capitals had to wrestle with their reputation as big game chokers, the Blues were in last place on New Years, and the Golden Knights had to fulfill Bill Foley's promise of a Cup in 6 seasons. How Vegas did it is a complaint for another time, but the common theme is that when the struggle has been real for however long, there is nothing like a confidence boost when the games matter more.

However, more established contenders like the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020-21, and the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014-15 both finished with long losing streaks and still dominated their opponents. The 2021-22 Colorado Avalanche finished their last 10 games 4-4-2 and cost themselves the President's Trophy, but they still swept Nashville and Edmonton and lost only 4 games in the playoffs that year and finished the season 56-19-7. The lesson on this side of the argument is, don't let yourself get worried if your team is losing games at the end if they are going in as a clear-cut contender like Florida, Carolina, Colorado, or Dallas. There is some importance to keeping your best players on the shelf once you know you're a shoo-in for the playoffs (Not the way that Vegas does it, because the way they do it is illegal, but Bill Foley probably pays Bettman's salary).

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