What's Different in the Playoffs

Frisbetarian

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A quick thought on the data @Jordu posted above. Those are per game numbers, and since there are more OT minutes in the playoffs, the actual scoring difference between playoffs and regular season (on a per 60 minute basis) is higher. This article by sound of hockey (who I never heard of until today) is pretty interesting, as it talks about regular vs postseason scoring discrepancies, team shooting percentage differences, scoring by defensemen in the postseason, and (for you @tims4wins) PP scoring in the playoffs.

The sound of hockey article also has a link to another piece on penalties in the playoffs. I take some exception to it, however, as from the work I did over multiple seasons (16-17 to 19-20) there was no negligible difference in penalties per 60 minutes between the regular season and the playoffs.

But what I did find was that hits per 60 minutes (from public sources) are up close to 50% in the postseason (see table below). I further looked at the regular season relationship between hits and penalties, including all players with over 500 minutes between the start of the 2016-17 season and 2-26-20 in the study, and found a decent correlation (r = 45%, r^2 = 20.2%) between hits and penalty minutes.

62083


This is important because while hits increase close to 50% in the playoffs, penalties for the most part remain static. The following table shows league average penalties and hits per 60 minutes since the start of the 2016-17 season, along with predicted penalties based on the regular season regression work:

Season Pen/60 Hits/60 Pred Pen/60
16-17 Reg 0.62 5.00 0.58
17-18 Reg 0.61 4.98 0.58
18-19 Reg 0.58 5.13 0.61
Thru 2-26-20 Reg 0.58 4.99 0.58
16-17 Play 0.62 7.41 1.09
17-18 Play 0.68 7.18 1.04
18-19 Play 0.60 7.44 1.10


This strongly suggests what many of you have said, that the refs swallow their whistles in the playoffs. Anyway, hopefully the above will spur some more discussion. No math is necessary ;)

Finally, I was talking the other day with an ex scout who is here in Mexico vacationing, and when I asked him the question about what changes in the playoffs, his immediate response was the importance of 4th lines. Interesting. Do you guys have any thoughts on this?
 

Dummy Hoy

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Thanks for all this Chuck.

Firstly, do you know what qualifies as a hit?
Secondly, RE: the 4th line, I'd argue given the increased intensity of the playoffs, depth becomes a greater factor in success, both in covering for injuries and for countering in-game exhaustion.
 

tims4wins

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The 4th line thing seems counterintuitive in that you would think that teams would run their top lines more frequently (akin to NBA teams shortening their rotations in the playoffs), but maybe to your point @Dummy Hoy the top lines are going so hard that they need more breathers?

Wonder if there is data for TOI by line to see whether the 4th lines get more or less run vs. the regular season.
 

Frisbetarian

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Thanks for all this Chuck.

Firstly, do you know what qualifies as a hit?
Secondly, RE: the 4th line, I'd argue given the increased intensity of the playoffs, depth becomes a greater factor in success, both in covering for injuries and for countering in-game exhaustion.
Great question! My post used the Hits data from NHL.com because I cannot share any proprietary info. I'm not exactly sure how they define it, but without saying too much I can tell you the more advanced data shows similar correlation between hits and penalties. And it kind of makes sense - more physicality leads to more infractions.
 

Dummy Hoy

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The 4th line thing seems counterintuitive in that you would think that teams would run their top lines more frequently (akin to NBA teams shortening their rotations in the playoffs), but maybe to your point @Dummy Hoy the top lines are going so hard that they need more breathers?

Wonder if there is data for TOI by line to see whether the 4th lines get more or less run vs. the regular season.
I think (?) that your benches get shortened situationally, but you roll with your depth over the course of the game- shorter shifts, fresher legs always rolling over. Of course given faceoffs, you may change up the order of lines depending on the need for a certain unit in the OZ or DZ, or trying to find a mismatch.
 

Dummy Hoy

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Great question! My post used the Hits data from NHL.com because I cannot share any proprietary info. I'm not exactly sure how they define it, but without saying too much I can tell you the more advanced data shows similar correlation between hits and penalties. And it kind of makes sense - more physicality leads to more infractions.
I only ask because even in "no hitting" leagues, there is contact and follow through on a near constant basis. Curious the parameters for defining a hit, or if it's like Judge Stewart's line about porn.
 

tims4wins

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Question from someone who doesn't know a ton about hockey: how do teams track TOI in real time, in order to make the right line changes? Obviously you know who was last on the ice, and you do things like OZ/DZ matchups, but seems like it could be hard to manage in real time.
 

kenneycb

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I only ask because even in "no hitting" leagues, there is contact and follow through on a near constant basis. Curious the parameters for defining a hit, or if it's like Judge Stewart's line about porn.
Historically I think it's based on the home scorer (or something like that). Anecdotally many players believe certain rinks juice up the hits stat (usually in favor of their own guy) than others.
Question from someone who doesn't know a ton about hockey: how do teams track TOI in real time, in order to make the right line changes? Obviously you know who was last on the ice, and you do things like OZ/DZ matchups, but seems like it could be hard to manage in real time.
I doubt they do anything like having a stopwatch but you pick up a feel. Not all TOI is equal as well - 30 seconds being hemmed in the D-zone is much different than 30 seconds pinning a team down in the O-zone.
 

tims4wins

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Historically I think it's based on the home scorer (or something like that). Anecdotally many players believe certain rinks juice up the hits stat (usually in favor of their own guy) than others.

I doubt they do anything like having a stopwatch but you pick up a feel. Not all TOI is equal as well - 30 seconds being hemmed in the D-zone is much different than 30 seconds pinning a team down in the O-zone.
Yeah that makes sense. I assume it's part of the job of the assistant coaches to help keep an eye on that stuff and whisper something in the HC's ear.
 

kenneycb

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The coach should know too. If you’ve been in one zone for 20+ seconds, you know your guys need a change. They’ll know that too, or at least they should.
 

The B’s Knees

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I think the amount of hitting is definitely a factor in playoff hockey vs regular season.

Edmonton was in pseudo "playoff mode" last night against the Bruins - they had just lost to them at home and are jockeying for position down the stretch, and they are playing the best team in the league.
In that game, Ekholm was a hitting machine and had clean hard hits on several key Bruins including DeBrusk, Bergy, Marchand and Krejci.
Those hits may or may not have factored in the final outcome, but I wouldn't want to see our stars getting banged like that across a 7-game series.
 

Jordu

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Finally, I was talking the other day with an ex scout who is here in Mexico vacationing, and when I asked him the question about what changes in the playoffs, his immediate response was the importance of 4th lines. Interesting. Do you guys have any thoughts on this?
Thanks so much, @Frisbetarian, for sharing that data. This is really interesting stuff and I enjoy spending idle moments trying to think all this through.

What the scout said makes intuitive sense to me, but I can’t think of how to quantify it. I looked back at the famous Merlot Line of 2011 Cup run just to anecdote’s sake.

In the 25 playoff games that year, Paille had an average TOI of 8:43. Thornton (18 games) averaged 6:58 TOI. Campbell averaged 11:00 but he played on the PK. Paille had 3 goals, Campbell 1, Thornton 0.

As folks said above, that TOI is less than a fourth line in a regular season game. (Last night the fourth line played 9 minutes.) So why do we remember Paille-Campbell-Thornton as so important in the Cup run?

It may be as simple as how much every minute of the 60 matters in the playoffs and the teams that can get 8 or 9 quality minutes from a fourth line have an edge, especially if the line delivers hits. It may be psychological— the grinders inspire the other forwards to grind. It may be that a good fourth line allows less O zone time to the opponent.

Side notes:

The Bruins played 4 OT games and one 2OT game in the 2011 playoffs.

Chara and Seidenberg averaged 27:30 TOI in those 25 games.
 

Red Right Ankle

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I only ask because even in "no hitting" leagues, there is contact and follow through on a near constant basis. Curious the parameters for defining a hit, or if it's like Judge Stewart's line about porn.
I like it, I love it, I want some more of it?
 

Over Guapo Grande

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@Frisbetarian - to me… just a fan of the game… the 4th Line bit makes a lot of sense if we look at it as a trigger, and then look for the result. What is the 4th Line generally out there for? To hit, to create energy… that is at a premium where the stakes of every minute… every shift is so important. I don’t know if that is able to be quantified. But a fourth line that can give energy and isn’t a black hole?? I can see that as being a wildcard .
 

Frisbetarian

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Great discussion guys!

I was thinking about the 4th line stuff last night while sipping a homemade mezcal and watching the sun sink into the Pacific as my gummy kicked in, so take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt.

It appears that 4th lines play fewer minutes in the postseason, but is it possible they play higher leverage minutes (to borrow a baseball term). You guys will be more likely to be able to answer this than me (my background is baseball, not hockey). But is it possible 4th lines in the playoffs get a higher percentage of DZ starts against opposition top lines, especially in close and late games?

And as an aside, I think a team’s hockey analytics information would be enhanced by coming up with a sophisticated win percentage added and leverage index calculation/system.
 

Eddie Jurak

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Great question! My post used the Hits data from NHL.com because I cannot share any proprietary info. I'm not exactly sure how they define it, but without saying too much I can tell you the more advanced data shows similar correlation between hits and penalties. And it kind of makes sense - more physicality leads to more infractions.
I remember how happy I was 25 or so years ago when the NHL started publishing all of those stats, including hits.

Then in a beer league I played in I met a guy who was one of the NHL officials who tracked those stats. He told me he was often the guy tracking visitor team ice time, and it kind of sucked because there were so many times when there would be something interesting happening in the game, like an odd-man rush, and he would have to be watching the defensemen shift-change behind the play. But he also got to do better things on occasion, including sometimes being a goal judge. That would have been in the late 90s/early 2000s.
I was thinking about the 4th line stuff last night while sipping a homemade mezcal and watching the sun sink into the Pacific as my gummy kicked in, so take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt.

It appears that 4th lines play fewer minutes in the postseason, but is it possible they play higher leverage minutes (to borrow a baseball term). You guys will be more likely to be able to answer this than me (my background is baseball, not hockey). But is it possible 4th lines in the playoffs get a higher percentage of DZ starts against opposition top lines, especially in close and late games?
I have a thought how this could be, assuming those observations are correct (4th lines play fewer minutes in postseason but 'higher leverage' ones).

At first I couldn't think why a coach would be more willing to give harder matchups to his 4th line in the playoffs. If a coach trusts them to match up against a top line or take more defensive zone starts in the playoffs, then why not in the regular season? I have a couple of ideas:

1. It's not more high leverage shifts but fewer low leverage ones. During the regular season, coaches are more likely to have a few shifts where the 4th lines match up against each other, giving the top 3 lines some extra rest. Nothing much happens in terms of scoring in these 4th line vs 4th line shifts. But these shifts tend to go away in the playoffs, leading to less ice time overall but with higher leverage.

2. It actually is more high leverage shifts. Coaches do more line matching in the playoffs than the regular season, and they are constantly looking for an opportunity to get a matchup they want. One way to do that is to change their substitution pattern, and having a 4th line that can be thrown out there unexpectedly is a way to do that.

3. 4th lines become more effective when the whistles are thrown away. In a bizarre way, this means they can handle more difficult assignments in the playoffs, because they can do things that would during the regular season get them called for penatlies.
 

cshea

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Maybe it'll be different with Monty than Butch, but Butch burried the 4th line in dzone starts, usually against oppoents top lines. Last year Nosek and co. got 25% ozone starts in the postseason. Year before it was even lower (Kuraly/Lazar) at about 12%.

Try and break even on those shifts, then theoretically you get your stars out against the other teams weaker lines and hope to pounce. You're not looking for the 4th line to score goals, just survive and don't give many up. In 2011 the merlot line only scored 1 5x5 goal in the playoffs but also only allowed 2 against.
 

Frisbetarian

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After going through this and the what’s different about this team exercises, I’d now like to ask the following question. Is this team built for the playoffs? Why or why not?
 

Cotillion

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After going through this and the what’s different about this team exercises, I’d now like to ask the following question. Is this team built for the playoffs? Why or why not?
I have thoughts but completely irrationally fear the bad juju.
 

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After going through this and the what’s different about this team exercises, I’d now like to ask the following question. Is this team built for the playoffs? Why or why not?
I think yes:
-depth of offense. Previous iterations of the Bruins relied on 63/37/88 for their offense. Shut them down and you didn’t have to worry much about the rest of the team beating you. This team has 4 lines that can contribute, and more importantly - a system that activates the defense offensively. You can’t just focus on shutting down 3 players.

-truculence. The additions of Hathaway and Bertuzzi, plus Greer, Foligno, Frederic, Clifton mean this team can’t be physically intimidated. They can wear your down just as much as you can try to wear them down.

-goaltending. You have a probable Vezina winner, and a 1b who may be playing better than him currently. You have two guys who can get hot and carry the team through the playoffs.
 

IdiotKicker

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I think the depth leads to better 5v5 chances as well. Like, this team has been a dumpster fire on the PP for two months and they’re still scoring left and right. It’s encouraging to me that they’re not firing on all cylinders and yet still putting up a bunch of goals. I don’t think we’ve even seen the peak form of what this team can be, especially with the new additions and Hall coming back, so that is incredibly exciting to me.
 

Jordu

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After going through this and the what’s different about this team exercises, I’d now like to ask the following question. Is this team built for the playoffs? Why or why not?
1. Goaltending. Ullmark and Swayman are #1 and #4 in the NHL in save percentage and #1 and #3 in goals against average.
2. Defense. Bruins are first in the NHL in fewest goals against at 167. The #2 team is Carolina at 201. Bruins D men are big (5 of 7 listed at over 6 feet, and Clifton listed at 5-11), physical, mobile and can move the puck up the ice quickly and cleanly (especially McAvoy, Lindholm and Gryz).
3. Pastrnak.
4. Scoring depth. Bruins have 10 forwards with ten or more goals and 11 players with 20 or more assists.
5. Match-up advantage. Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk are 2nd in xGoal % at over 68.6 (MoneyPuck) and Hall-Coyle-Frederic are over 60 in xGoal %. The second line had a player with 104 points and two with more than 50. Other teams can match first D pair and best defensive line against Bruins first line, but who has the depth to match up against the Bruins second and third lines?
 

wiffleballhero

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Their biggest weakness is that luck and injuries are baked into the nature of the game as significant factors, more so than other games. A team this deep and this much better than the field in baseball or basketball would simply steamroll the playoffs. But it is hockey so the season might be over in a couple weeks.
 

Gammon_Clark

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Their biggest weakness is that luck and injuries are baked into the nature of the game as significant factors, more so than other games. A team this deep and this much better than the field in baseball or basketball would simply steamroll the playoffs. But it is hockey so the season might be over in a couple weeks.
The thought of that fills me with profound sadness. Not the possibility of the team not winning, but the season ending.
 

Eddie Jurak

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After going through this and the what’s different about this team exercises, I’d now like to ask the following question. Is this team built for the playoffs? Why or why not?
Reasons why they are:

1. Defense. We won the Stanley Cup going 4 deep on D and then white knuckling it when it was necessary to play the third pair. This year we have seven who can play. Led by 2 elite 2-way defensemen in McAvoy and Lindholm. Do McAvoy and Lindolm have the overall playoff value of Chara/Seidenberg? It has to be close, could be better. The depth is better not than 2011, when we had to white knuckle through 3rd pair minutes.

2. Forward depth. 14 forwards who can play (15 if Foligno were healthy), multiple lines that can generate offense. Certainly a 4th line that can play.

Reasons why they may not be:

1. Only one 30-goal scorer. If you stop Pastrnak, do you stop the Bruins?

2. Does the swallowing of whistles hurt them in particular?

I'm not sure which colum to put Linus Ullmark in. His basic states (save percentage, etc) all say he is elite. Are there advanced metrics on him that differentiate how much of his play was him and how much was playing behind a loaded team?
 

wiffleballhero

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1. Only one 30-goal scorer. If you stop Pastrnak, do you stop the Bruins?

I suspect you know the answer to this question is "no." But to play along, I mean, if the Bruins were the roster they rolled out vs Philly, maybe. But the Bruins are incredibly capable of winning games with scoring from any of the 12 forwards and many of the defenders.

By my quick count, the Bruins are 23-8 in games where Pasta does not score (including OTL in the L because I was skimming fast). So, yes, when the Bruins bump into a rare loss it tends to involve him not scoring, but the Bruins are hardly a team that can be beat by the Belichickian bit about not getting beat by the best player. Give that a shot vs. the Bruins and the next thing you know Lauko is five strides past you already in his celly. I mean, they are relentless.

For example, you can flip the scoring isolation on its head and observe that Marchand is second in points on the team, he does not even play on the same line with with Pastrnak, and the Bruins are 14-3 since the last time Brad scored a goal.

The Bruins have scored more than any team not Edmonton and Edmonton has let in more than a goal a game more than Boston (85) at this point.


I think long term fatigue from the gray beards on the team like Bergy, Krejci and Brad could be issues as the calendar gets to May and June (but even this I think is managed well).

Bad luck is a concern.

Otherwise, it is there for them to win.
 

cshea

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Eh, Bergeron is at 27 goals and has sat 4 games. DeBrusk is at 25 goals and missed 18 due to injury. Taylor Hall has scored 16 and has missed 21 games and was 7th among forwards in PP TOI per game. He probably gets in the 25 goal neighborhood with better health and more PP time. Trent Frederic has 16 goals playing exclusively on the 3rd and 4th line and gets zero power play time on ice. Frederic is actually their 3rd best 5x5 goal scorer based on goals per 60 he just doesn't get as much ice time as everyone else. Obviously talent is a requirement but hitting the couting stats totals is also dependant on situation and other variables outside of the players control.

As for the goalies, they are elite. Goals saved above expected is a metric that takes into account the shot quality faced and depending on the Ullmark is top 3 (Saros and Sorokin are in the ballpark) and Swayman is 5-10.
 

tims4wins

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In terms of the "are they built for the playoffs" question, isn't there kind of an X factor here with regard to the goaltending? By which I mean, they have rode the two guys more or less 50/50 all season. The playoffs (usually) don't go like that. Is there a potential vulnerability there? Or is it a positive because if Ully has a bad game they can go to Sway? Maybe I'm in my head about this too much but it's a concern of mine that they get all out of sync with the goalies.
 

cshea

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I would say it's a positive to have two good goalies. I've been vocal about wanting them to continue rotation though I don't think it'll happen. Ullmark will be the guy until they feel they need to make a change, be it due to performance or otherwise. Playoff hockey will be somewhat new to him, he played the first 2 games in Carolina last year before Swayman took over and finished the series playing the last 5. This year is the most Ullmark has ever played in the regular season, at 48 games. He did have a stretch early on where he played in 14 if the first 18 games while Swayman struggled and got hurt so he does have some experience carrying a playoff-ish workload (and had a .937 save percentage through that stretch so there was no dip in performance).

As for if the whole team is built for the playoffs, I would say they are as good as can be. I've posted before that in hockey randomness and luck play a bigger role than in other sports so that will always be looming but they are a deep team with no glaring weaknesses. They can score, they can defend, they have 2 excellent goalies, they have good/elite special teams (PP is OK right now; PK is best in class). They would seem to have every imaginable situation covered. If the injury bug hits their 9th defenseman is Mike Reilly who is a pretty damn good NHL player, and up front they have Foligno, Greer and Lauko as quality depth that has provided positive value at various time this year. From a roster standpoint, I don't really see any issues. Time will tell.

I was a little worried that they'd slip too far into a malaise once everything was clinched but the Devils game on Saturday was a great showing against the 2nd or 3rd best team in the conference that was still playing for something.
 

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As this is somewhat playoff related - on the ABC broadcast on Saturday, Sean M mentioned how the Bruins were less potent offensively at home than on the road, and was speculating as to why. Is the easy answer to that the bad ice, and is that something to worry about (or does it balance out things for both teams: or does it favour “mudders”)?
 

BaseballJones

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In terms of the "are they built for the playoffs" question, isn't there kind of an X factor here with regard to the goaltending? By which I mean, they have rode the two guys more or less 50/50 all season. The playoffs (usually) don't go like that. Is there a potential vulnerability there? Or is it a positive because if Ully has a bad game they can go to Sway? Maybe I'm in my head about this too much but it's a concern of mine that they get all out of sync with the goalies.
Well.....

You and I shared a concern about goaltending. I worried that Ullmark would go back to his normal career (which is fine but not spectacular), and that the Bruins would need him to be spectacular to finish the job.

And he's been anything BUT spectacular. And tonight he hasn't even been remotely good.
 

Foxy42

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Apparently you aren’t allowed to rotate your goalies in the playoffs….so that’s different…
 

tims4wins

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Yeah I have no interest in spiking the football on this but I don’t really get it. Sway got a taste in the final minutes of game 4, I agree with the takes that I’d have given him game 5. Ugh.
 

AB in DC

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In the last 15 years, the President's Trophy winner has won the Cup exactly once. They're lost in the first round now six times. Being the best team in the league only gives you a 60% shot of beating an 8 seed. That's insane.
 

catomatic

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Refs by and large even out the calls, giving a decided advantage to the team that plays on or over the edge and has the ability to intimidate without suffering for it commensurately in the realm of manpower disadvantage.

It happens time and again that “Will beats Skill” but “Will” is actually euphemistic for headshots (St Louis delivered no fewer than 4 concussions in the last two rounds of ‘19 alone) and say, punching the goalie (Tkachuk), or repeatedly just throwing forwards to the ice and/or lying on top of them (Gudas). None of these situations resulted in Bruins PPs. Nor, I believe, did the Panthers pay a price for concussing Knies or cross checking Bunting.

Blais, Barbashev and Sundqvist ran around with high elbows and slewfoots while not suffering after G3 for it, at all.

As long as the league wants this, 2-3 PP per game per team, regardless — the Presidents Trophy, and skilled teams in general, will be 6X more likely to be eliminated than to win it all.

That’s a big, big difference from regular season.

Edit; Orlov trip bears mentioning. Failure to exercise discretion on Hand Pass wrt intent/effect is in a league of its own.
 
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durandal1707

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Curious to see the number of games that end in odd-numbered overtimes (long change) versus even-numbered OTs. Certainly seems like more odd-man rushes and long shifts result when the bench is on the other side of the ice.