It's tough for those of us who aren't headed into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to imagine what the marathon-esque grind must feel like. But as much as we respect how difficult it may be, that doesn't mean we're not allowed to ask a very valid question:
What the hell is going on with the top players in the finals?
The Philadelphia Flyers' Mike Richards(notes), Jeff Carter(notes) and Simon Gagne(notes) have combined for the same point total — six — as Tomas Kopecky(notes), Ben Eager(notes) and Andrew Ladd(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Worse still, it's Kopecky and Eager that own game winners. Ouch.
On the other bench, Patrick Kane(notes) and Jonathan Toews(notes) have combined for seven points in 10 games (Kane has five), which isn't awful. But when you factor in that their team has scored 21 times, the two they've deposited doesn't look like such a sparkly figure.
Even worse, the plus/minus line for the top players looks like a PGA leaderboard:
Patrick Kane: -6
Mike Richards: -6
Jeff Carter: -5
Simon Gagne: -5
Jonathan Toews: -4
But there's a reason all five stars have struggled at the same time.
While the 2010 playoff's buzzword is "shutdown D-men" — Anton Volchenkov's(notes) agent drools a little every time the phrase gets used — there's something more at play. Those guys deserve credit, sure, but these forwards have dealt with top defensemen their whole lives. If Richards or Kane didn't occasionally beat the game's best defenders, they wouldn't have the resumes they've put together.
The truth is that the playoffs are a grind. That isn't very sexy, but it's true. And I'll be the first to point out, they're not just a grind for the stars, they're a grind for everybody. But, the simple fact is this:
Nobody needs their extra gear more than those people whose role is to create offense.
Pronger and Keith are playing just under half a game each, so you'd think that forwards would be feasting on the over-worked D-men.
But forget the feast. These forwards are starving.
Where D-men can play soundly and conserve energy, offensive players need a certain spark to generate the powerful bursts and nifty handiwork that creates so much chaos for opposing defenders.
Remember, the NHL is packed with good players. But players like Toews and Carter usually make enough little plays in every period of every game that by the end of the year, their stats add up to justify how good they've been. They aren't that much faster, they don't shoot it that much harder; they just do everything a little better
So, throughout the course of playoffs, they've been red-flagged by opposing coaches. They've gotten chopped more. They've been double shifted. They've worked harder to beat better players. They've done more interviews, shouldered more pressure, and gotten more worn down then their second- and third-line teammates.
For these talented forwards, it's become increasingly difficult to pull off the special plays we associate with them. The mental effort alone to find that extra edge has gotten harder as the rounds have dragged on (which is one of the reasons the long-term performance of players like Pavel Datsyuk(notes) and Sidney Crosby(notes) is so impressive).
The two days between games might have been just what the struggling stars needed. There's light at the end of the tunnel, and the top talent on either team isn't about to roll over in a game this huge.
They've been running on "E" for weeks; but when you're this close, fumes are all you need.