The term “Stanley Cup hangover” has long been in vogue around the NHL.
The notion is that a team that plays that deeply into the previous season to win the Stanley Cup is pretty automatically placed at a disadvantage the following season based on the exertion extended into June at a playoff intensity. Everybody talks about the Stanley Cup winner suffering a hangover and the Washington Capitals were the poster boys for it last season both literally and figuratively as they battled their flagging energy levels throughout the season.
But nobody really talks about the “Stanley Cup Final hangover” in the same terms. This is the situation that the Bruins find themselves in as they get ready to drop the puck for the season opener tonight in Dallas.
They didn’t win the Cup when it was all over in Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues, but they did play 24 playoff games into the middle of June with the same heavily abbreviated offseason as the Stanley Cup champs.
Most of those Stanley Final teams make it to the postseason that following season, but what do they actually do in the playoffs? Interestingly enough, the Bruins have taken recent past history of Stanley Cup Finalists into account when looking ahead to this season.
“We actually did a study that [Stanley Cup Final] teams in the past four or five years have actually done very well in the regular season…so it’s certainly part of what we looked at," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "When it comes down to it on a little more of a day-to-day, you know your team is going to hit a wall at some point in time based on the mileage from the previous season. We have to find those pockets of the schedule and maybe utilize the break effectively, which didn’t happen in the past and allow them to recharge. We’ve had some open dialogue about it, but history says the team generally gets off to a good start.
“Mentally and physically, these guys are ready to go. It’s just a matter of getting into the grind and if you can stay healthy. Obviously, we proved last year with 37 players in our lineup, you need that [depth]. To be successful, you have to have it, and you run into challenging parts of the schedule, you’re going to go through injuries. You have to have other players come in and be able to step up, and that will be no different for us this year.”
But what did that Bruins study say when it comes to the playoffs. Welp, we helped them with the research there.
Washington and Vegas met in the 2018 Cup Final and both were first-round fodder this past postseason. The year before, Nashville and Pittsburgh met in the Final and they were both done in the second round the following postseason.
In fact, over the past five seasons, the two Cup finalists have a 50-percent chance of not making it out the first round the following season, and a 90-percent chance of not making it to the Stanley Cup Final with the back-to-back Cup seasons for the Penguins as the only obvious exception to the rule.
Pull it back to ten seasons and nearly half of the finalists didn’t make it out of the first round, and 15 of 20 were done by the end of the second round.
So, clearly the numbers don’t favor the Black and Gold going very deep into this postseason or returning to where they were last season, just 60 quality minutes away from hoisting the Cup. It becomes an even more difficult task when one considers the aging core of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask, all on the wrong side of 30 at the start of another season.
The chances of those key players remaining as healthy and productive as they were last season aren’t very good. Even the players themselves are curious to see what kind of extreme highs and lows may await them this season against the well-rested Lightning and Maple Leafs, who are ready to knock them off in the Atlantic Division.
“Every season is different. Every year is different. It’s a clean slate. But I think you really need to focus on short-term goals. I said that early in training camp. We’ve all come down the mountain and we’re all at the same level to start the year. The challenge to start the year is to be motivated to go back up there,” said Bergeron. “You set yourself some short term goals and just be excited to get in the battles with the guys as we go through the ups and downs of the season.”
Still, the Bruins have bucked the odds before and hope to do it again this season. They have the kind of depth that should allow them to provide “load management” rest for Bergeron, Chara, Rask and Krejci and keep them as fresh as possible. The Bruins also have arguably the best goaltending duo in the NHL in Rask and Jaroslav Halak. That elite level of puck-stopping should prevent the B's from dropping into an extended losing streak when they “hit the wall” as even the B’s brass are expecting.
“It’s a tough thing to do. Some of it will be dependent on the roles of the players and we tried to manage our training camp. We started with that and see where it goes from there because things change quickly. It’s about how we manage minutes of our players who have been through a lot of these runs,” said Cassidy. “Secondly, we’ve communicated with the players that have been through these, the Bergerons, the Charas that went through it in 2013 and came back the next year and had a great regular season.
“They didn’t achieve what they wanted in the playoffs; I don’t know if that had anything to do with going to the Cup the year before. Sometimes, it’s just hard to repeat. I think you’ve got to be careful how much you’re reading into that and rely on what the players are telling you and what their bodies are telling [them].”
What does it all mean?
Certainly, the “Stanley Cup Final hangover” is a very real thing facing the Bruins. They should be a playoff team, and they might even still finish ahead of Tampa Bay and Toronto in what’s become an annual three-team slugfest at the top of the Atlantic Division. But B's fans would be wise to temper expectations when it comes to playoff time, and hold off on any redemption tour talk when it comes to the B’s righting the wrong and winning the Cup this season.
The odds, father time and improved competition in the East are all working against them this time around, and it will prove to be much more difficult for them to return to the exact same Stanley Cup Final spot they were at just a few months ago.
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