One of the most commonly used clichés in sports is “defense wins championships.” While there’s a lot of truth to that statement a more accurate one may be “depth wins championships.” Star players certainly shoulder the load when it comes to leading their team to a title but it’s the supporting cast that really makes the difference.
When coming into a playoff series teams focus on the marquee players of the opposing team. So much effort is put into shutting down the Ryan Getzlafs and Anze Kopitars of the league that they usually cancel each other out (just ask Sidney Crosby how his playoffs are going at the moment). This allows not only the opportunity for the depth players to step up but makes it a necessity. Teams that fail to get results from their third and fourth line players usually dust off their golf clubs earlier than teams that do.
For a prime example look no further than the Anaheim Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup champion team. The infamous “shutdown line” of Rob Niedermayer, Sammy Pahlsson and Travis Moen provided suffocating defense and clutch scoring all the way to the Cup. In 2003 it seemed every game there was a big goal was scored by Mike Leclerc, Jason Krog, or Steve Thomas. Having 20 guys all tugging on the same rope is essential for surviving this two-month battle of attrition.
The Ducks have won seven games this postseason and currently hold a 3-2 series advantage over their bitter rivals from up the road. Seven different players have been credited with the game-winning goals in those games and none of them are named Getzlaf, Perry, or Selanne. Bruce Boudreau’s ability to roll four lines and get contributions from just about every player in his lineup is proving to be the difference in this series.
Perhaps this is the reason Boudreau has yet to bask in playoff success. His Capitals were high-scoring, up-tempo teams that won a lot of games thanks in large part to Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstom and Mike Green piling up goals but once opposing teams canceled them out there was little help to pick up the slack. If he had character guys like Andrew Cogliano, Matt Beleskey, or Daniel Winnik he may have experienced the joy of raising the Cup over his head by now.
We’re also seeing there may have been some method to his madness this year. Hardly a game would go by when Boudreau wouldn’t tinker with his line combinations much to the chagrin of many Ducks fans. On any given night Getzlaf and Perry would see a new partner patrolling the left wing. We can’t really say who the second line center is since it changed from game to game.
While many have feared this practice would prevent any line from forming legitimate chemistry it in fact prepared the team to be allusive and surprising. At any given moment in a game, Boudreau can mix up his lines and expect results due to the fact he’s probably used that combination at some point this season. It’s hard to beat a team that plays their third leading scorer on the fourth line.
If the Ducks want to win this series and eventually the Cup they’ll have to continue to rely on their depth players to come up big. Every blocked shot, every finished check, and every ugly goal is another step closer to getting their names etched into that silver chalice.
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