As always, goaltending will play a key role in which team prevails over the next two months of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
From last year's outstanding Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance from Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick to Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins to Antti Niemi of the Chicago Blackhawks, they exhibited that a champion netminder needs more than sound technique. They all were very athletic and demonstrated a remarkable determination to keep the puck out of their net.
"They all have technique. They all have their own individual style. But what I like about the guys you mentioned is that they all battle. They never give up on a puck. More than anything, at some particular point, and every goalie has his point, when they abandon their style and simply just try to stop the puck.
"Who cares what it looks like or who cares what their goalie coach at age 12 told them to do. It's all about just stopping it. Guys like [Dominik] Hasek were known for that. Everyone has his breaking point, where they know style is not going to get me a save and it's time to dive for a puck to make a save. Quick was a good example of that last year. Niemi also is like that."
Last year, the Kings squeaked into the playoffs with a strong 7-3-2 finish in their final 12 games. Guess what the Kings record was in their final 12 games this year? Yep, 7-3-2.
For the most part, the Kings and the other three conference finalists of a year ago each enjoyed decent conclusions to their regular seasons. The Stanley Cup finalist New Jersey Devils went 8-3-1 in their final 12 games followed by the Phoenix Coyotes at 8-2-2, the Kings and the New York Rangers at 7-5-0.
Here are the final-quarter records of the 16 playoff-bound teams:
The Chicago Blackhawks clearly were the most dominant team this season, easily winning the Presidents' Trophy. But that doesn't necessarily guarantee playoff success.
In fact, only seven of the last 25 Presidents' Trophy winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Three of the last four -- San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks -- each have been bounced in the first round.
Here was the position of the past seven Stanley Cup winners in the overall regular-season standings:
In and out
There are five teams that made the playoffs this year that were sitting on the sidelines for the 2012 post-season. The newcomers are Anaheim, Montreal, Minnesota, Toronto and the Islanders. Out are the Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, New Jersey, Philadelphia Flyers and Phoenix.
Joe Sacco became the third coaching casualty of the season, when the Colorado Avalanche fired him on Sunday. There were only two mid-season coaching changes in the hectic 48-game, lockout-shortened season.
The Buffalo Sabres improved under interim head coach Ron Rolston, while the Tampa Bay Lighting continued to struggle after their coaching change.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning played two games under assistant coaches between Boucher's firing and Cooper's first game.
By the numbers
4 -- Canadian teams in the playoffs, the most since Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa made it in 2006.
1996 -- The last time each of the Original Six teams advanced to the post-season in the same year.
19 -- League-leading one-goal victories for the Chicago Blackhawks, five more than the next teams in line (Anaheim, St. Louis, San Jose, Columbus).
22 -- Playoff appearances in a row for Detroit. It's the longest active streak among teams in the NHL, MLB, NFL and NBA.
9 -- Consecutive playoff appearances for San Jose, the next longest streak in the NHL.
7 -- Straight seasons that Edmonton has missed the playoffs since its 2006 run to the Stanley Cup final for the longest playoff drought in the NHL now that Toronto ended its nine-year absence from the post-season.
141 -- NHLers who played in all 48 games this season.
99 -- NHLers played in all 82 games last season.
764 -- Regular-season games for Blues defenceman Jay Bouwmeester before he makes his playoff debut this week.
799 -- Regular-season games was the longest wait. Olli Jokinen, who entered the NHL in 1997-98, finally played in his first NHL playoff game in 2009. He hasn't been back to the post-season since.
Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC
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