Tag: playoff strategies

Dan Hamhuis, Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo

Bruins attack plan for Game 2: Stress out Roberto Luongo


One of the keys to success for the Bruins to try and beat the Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals is figuring out a way to beat Roberto Luongo. After Luongo’s 36-save shutout in Game 1 that saw a lot of his saves come on shots from a good distance away from the net, that’s not a good way for the Bruins to get Luongo out of his comfort zone.

While the Bruins again had their own sorts of issues on the power play, the main way they’re going to get success is to get Luongo feeling stressed out in goal. By increasing their presence around the net and making him work even harder than he already is, they can wear him down to the point that he can slip up in his form in goal and increase the Bruins chances of scoring.

Saying that and doing that are two entirely different things, however, and the Bruins know it. As for how they’ll try and go about things in Game 2 on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on NBC), veteran Bruins forward Mark Recchi tells Joe Haggerty of CSN New England that they’ve got some ideas.

“You always think you can be harder on a team. You’ve got to make it tougher on every goalie . . . whether you think you played a perfect game or not,” said Mark Recchi, who is chief among the players expected to start fighting with more ferocity in front of the blue paint. “He’s a great goalie and you’ve got to make him work.”

Recchi continued: “Obviously you always need to have traffic. They’re going to try to get in front of Timmy, and that’s what all of our jobs are as players is to get in front there to try and make it as hard as you can.”

Big guys like Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton can get physical in front of the net on the Vancouver defensemen and make life trickier on Roberto Luongo,but  it’s up to them to stir things up. With Zdeno Chara planting himself in front of the net on the power play, they could use that to their advantage. They weren’t totally able to do that in Game 1 but they’ll have to do it in Game 2 to avoid heading home down 2-0 in the series.

The one thing potentially working against Boston with that strategy is how Luongo’s matured and improved his mental focus this season and especially in the playoffs. The last two years in the postseason Dustin Byfuglien ran roughshod over the Vancouver defense in front of the net and made Luongo’s life a living hell. While Chicago caused him problems again in this year’s playoffs, guys milling around his net haven’t been the problem it has been in the past for Luongo. Instead, he’s let it roll off his back and he’s kept his cool.

It’s that brand of Zen focus the Bruins will need to break. Doing that while not running afoul of the law and drawing penalties makes for a tricky endeavor. If the Bruins can find a way, however, they might find the breaks they’re looking for to help even up the series.

With Washington resting Alex Ovechkin, should other top teams offer stars breaks too?

Alex Ovechkin

Although this year was the exception, the Indianapolis Colts typically created annual debates when they would rest starters once their playoff spot was confirmed. For many sports writers, there would be a basic reaction if the Colts faltered. They would blame the accumulated rust for the loss rather than the more likely (but less stimulating) explanation that the Colts just lost to a better team.

You would think that an 82-game season would create more instances in which NHL teams give their best players unofficial “bye weeks,” but that isn’t often the case. Of course, the reasoning is usually simple: the gap between playoff teams and playoff hopefuls is often quite small.

Yet after a few years of pushing the pedal to the metal all season long and then possibly being unable to find another gear once the playoffs began, the Washington Capitals have taken an interestingly measured approach this season. While they clearly are facing some growing pains as they transition from a run-and-gun offense to a more balanced approach, there’s also a sense that the team is learning how to save its best for last.

As you may already know, Alex Ovechkin will miss about a week with an undisclosed injury. When asked what exactly is bothering him, Ovechkin had an amusing response: “Guess.” He didn’t provide any more information other than that the mystery ailment has been troubling him for months.

Well, here’s my guess, then: maybe the Capitals are just being smart by allowing their biggest star to get a rare break.

It’s true that Bruce Boudreau allowed certain Washington players to grab a mini-rest last season, but that was just for a game or two at the very end. Getting a more extensive break could be a subtle boost for Ovechkin, a player who tends to go 100 mph in every game. The fact that he could then shake off whatever imaginary rust he builds up by playing a handful of other contests before the playoffs makes the idea seem that much brighter.

It also makes me wonder: why aren’t other contenders following their lead?

The Vancouver Canucks are showing great moxie in beating desperate teams in games they don’t need to win, but with Manny Malhotra gone for the rest of the season and playoffs, shouldn’t they start to rest the Sedins, Ryan Kesler and other players who will deal with greater burdens? The Philadelphia Flyers are already playing without Chris Pronger, but with the Atlantic Division more or less wrapped up, maybe they should give Mike Richards and other forwards a little siesta? A health-oriented approach might be especially wise for the Detroit Red Wings, being that they have an ample Central Division lead and next to no chance of passing the Canucks for the top seed after losing to them in regulation tonight.

Yes, home ice advantage is important, but going into the playoffs as close to full-strength as possible might be just as vital.

This is not to say that every high-end player should receive a 7-10 mini-vacation, but with a lengthy playoff grind ahead, every little bit of rest could be huge – even if the benefits might not be obvious to the naked eye.