Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The 2018 playoff pressure index

It’s playoff time, which means 16 teams are facing more pressure than they had at any other point so far this year. Once you get to the playoffs, one game – even one play – can make or break your season. Fans from around the league are watching your every move, breaking down and debating each decision that got you here. And if it goes wrong, it can all be over in a few days. That’s pressure.

But not all pressure is created equal. There’s “gosh it sure would be great if we won” pressure. And then there’s “half of us are getting fired if we lose, and the rest of us will be chased out of town with pitchforks” pressure. That’s a pretty wide spectrum, and teams can fall anywhere in between.

So today, let’s run through this year’s 16 playoff teams and figure out who wants to win, and who needs to win. We’ll count them down from the least pressure to the most, starting with the teams that would never admit to being just happy to be here, but probably could be.

16: Colorado Avalanche

It feels like we’re not making a big enough deal out of the Avalanche being in the playoffs. Think about how awful this year’s Sabres were, and how remote their prospects for a quick turnaround feel right now. Now remember that the 2017-18 Sabres were 14 points better than the 2016-17 Avalanche. That’s how hopeless last season felt in Colorado. And the only major roster move that they made since was one that, at least in the short term, was supposed to make them worse.

And yet here they are. Depending on your perspective, that’s either an inspiring story of triumphing over expectations, or a reminder of how random this league often feels in the age of parity. Either way, the Avalanche should probably be considered the most amazing story of the year. They’re not, but only because of an even more surprising team we’ll get to in a bit.

The story will still be amazing even if the Avalanche head home early. They’re missing some key players and nobody expects them to beat the Predators, so even winning a game or two is gravy. They want to win, no doubt, but they don’t have to. Given where they were coming from, the season is already a massive success by any realistic measure. That’s not a bad place for a franchise to be, but it doesn’t add up to a lot of pressure.

15: New Jersey Devils

You could take an awful lot of what we just said about the Avalanche and apply it to the Devils. Nobody expected them to be here, nobody expects them to win now that they’re here, and the season is a giant step forward no matter what happens now. The Avalanche turnaround is the more surprising one, which is why they get the No. 16 slot on our list, but otherwise it’s a similar story.

14. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are another underdog who slipped into the playoffs late in the season, and even making it this far in a season that featured a 10-game losing streak is pretty impressive. They’re also a team on the way up, so a first-round exit against the defending champs wouldn’t be a disaster. But we’ll nudge them up a few spots, given that they’ve drawn a matchup with a key rival. Everyone wants to be the one to end the Penguins’ reign, but Philadelphia would be insufferable about it.

13: Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are another wild-card team, but don’t carry the same sort of pressure-free status as the Devils and Avalanche. That’s because their return to the post-season wasn’t the same kind of longshot, and they went into their first-round matchup with at least a decent chance of pulling off an upset.

That isn’t going all that well so far, and wasting a fantastic performance by Jonathan Quick will sting, especially if they head home in a sweep. But with two relatively recent Cup wins to fall back on, we can’t move the Kings much further up the list.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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