What it takes for NHL playoff contenders to win Stanley Cup

The path to the Stanley Cup is rarely a straight line. Sometimes it’s the direction a puck takes when it banks off the post and in — or out.

Four years ago, Artemi Panarin clanked a shot off the post late in regulation that could have put Columbus up three games to none in the first round against Washington. Lars Eller scored, the Capitals won the series and went on to lift the Stanley Cup.

Andre Burakovsky looks back now and acknowledges he and the Capitals got some lucky bounces on the way to their first championship in franchise history. Now with the Colorado Avalanche, he’s well-aware that’s just one part of what it takes for a playoff team to get over the hump and win it all.

“It’s so hard to win the Stanley Cup,” Burakovsky said. “You’re going to need a little bit of luck and you’re going to need everyone in your team to be extremely dialed in and sacrificing and doing whatever it takes to win.”

The NHL is full of title contenders that turn out to be pretenders and plenty of success stories about teams that figure it out and get the job done. As the playoffs begin Monday night, Burakovsky and the Avalanche, the Carolina Hurricanes and Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers are among the teams looking to make the leap — a challenge that is part good health and great luck but more about figuring out how to ride the roller coaster of wins and losses through four rounds.

“Once you commit to something, be it the defensive part of the game or whatever was holding you back and you commit to it and you break through, then it becomes easier because you know what’s there,” said Barry Trotz, who coached the Captials to the Cup. “It’s almost like climbing Mount Everest. You want to do it, you think you can do it and then you actually have to do it and you get to a certain place.”

Players and coaches who have won the Cup or reached the final described that climb as a combination of consistency, confidence and the right combination of goaltending and timely scoring.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

The Tampa Bay Lightning certainly had all that when they won back to back the past two years. In 2021, they eliminated Florida in the first round, Carolina in the second round and Trotz’s New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference final.

Ken Daneyko, who won the Cup with New Jersey three times, pointed to a penalty by Sam Bennett that cost the Panthers last year. Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said special teams were the difference against Tampa Bay and in their previous playoff exits to the Boston Bruins.

Current Devils coach Lindy Ruff is on board with that being a crucial part of winning in the playoffs.

“If your penalty killing’s strong, if you’ve taken penalties and you don’t give the other team an opportunity to take advantage of it, it’s another big area,” said Ruff, who coached Buffalo to the final in 1999. “A lot of times power plays can struggle. As a team that’s looking to win, if you can keep the other team’s power play off the board, it gives you a better chance to win.”

Five of the past six champions have finished top five on the power play or penalty kill in the playoffs. Five of six also were in the top five in goals against.

Rod Brind’Amour, who captained the Hurricanes to the Cup in 2006 and coaches them now, said getting strong goaltending and keeping guys in the lineup are among the keys.

“What does it take? You’ve got to be healthy when you hit playoffs,” Brind’Amour said. “If your top guys are out, it’s going to be hard.”

Brind’Amour and the Hurricanes go into the playoffs with a double whammy there: starting goalie Frederik Andersen is injured. Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry is also out, while Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau are among the other top players banged up.

Some Cup champions overcame injuries, like the Blues losing Robert Thomas in 2019 and the Lightning winning again after Alex Killorn went out during the 2021 final.

The Capitals lost center Nicklas Backstrom to injury and winger Tom Wilson to suspension before Game 6 of their second-round series against Pittsburgh and put the spotlight on reserve players to fill in. Jay Beagle and Nathan Walker assisted on Alex Chiasson’s goal in regulation, then Ovechkin assisted on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime winner to get Washington past the second round for the first time since 1998.

“Everybody had counted us out for dead and that’s when we might’ve played one of our best games because there was that resiliency that you’ve been punched in the nose and you’ve got to keep getting up,” Trotz said. “You’re going to get punched in the nose. You’re going to have to get up a few times.”

When the Penguins fired Mike Johnston early in the 2015-16 season, Mike Sullivan took over and told players to forget about what happened the previous game or outside the rink and “just play.” Several months later, they won the first of consecutive Cup titles that veteran defenseman Ian Cole credits to that mindset.

“We had so much confidence,” said Cole, who’s now with Carolina. “We would lose a game, go down in a series and it was something where it’s like, ‘OK, go win the next one.’ It’s just a confidence and a consistent game plan and a consistent game. I think it’s having the right mindset and knowing how to win and not getting rattled if you don’t, but being able to bounce back immediately and win the next one.”

Daneyko, now an NHL Network analyst, said he and his teammates learned in 1994 that every play matters. After the Devils lost a lead in Game 6 against the New York Rangers and got knocked out in seven, they learned a lesson and won the Cup the following year.

“We knew what it was going to take: You couldn’t sit back,” Daneyko said. “The emotion has to be balanced, has to be in check. You have to stay even keeled but play your game.”

That style of game does not have to be the same. Three years ago, the Blues bruised their way to a title and now have evolved to win with skill and scoring.

No matter how the hockey happens, the key is getting to the playoffs to have a chance to win. Among recent Cup champs, Tampa Bay has made the playoffs eight of the past nine years, St. Louis 10 of 11, Washington nine of 10 and Pittsburgh 16 in a row.

“You just have to get there as much as possible and breaks are going to happen,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “You need things going your way. You need health, you need a couple of breaks and then just ride it as far as you can.”

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    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    “I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

    “It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.