Before the Seattle Kraken played the first NHL playoff game in franchise history, players heard from those on the roster who have already won the Stanley Cup.
“(They) told us guys that haven’t been there before just what to expect,” young defenseman Will Borgen said.
The Kraken not only have half a dozen Cup winners, but those players come from a variety of different championship teams. They’re not alone: 14 of the 16 teams in the postseason field have at least one player with his name on the Cup and every single champion since the league’s salary cap era began in 2006 is represented somewhere.
It’s another reminder how important it is this time of year to have players who have gone through the playoff grind and hoisted the Cup before. No team has won it all without a previous champion on the roster since the Calgary Flames in 1989.
“Everybody climbing Everest is not going at it alone,” Boston Bruins general manger Don Sweeney said. “Chances are, they probably have somebody who has already climbed there, and to their credit, you climb it once and to go back there and sign up to climb it again. They know how hard it is, but it’s valuable, valuable knowledge.”
The top-seeded Bruins, who set records for the most wins and points in a season, have Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci from the team that in 2011 won the organization’s sixth championship. Chasing a seventh, Sweeney also traded for Dmitry Orlov, who won the Cup in 2018 with Washington and has been a vital playoff contributor with points in each of the first four games.
Defending champion Colorado has the core intact from its 2022 title run, but that didn’t stop the front office from adding more experience. The Avalanche acquired 2018 Capitals champion Lars Eller prior to the trade deadline; he knows well the value of title-winning experience thanks to what Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen showed him and his teammates five years ago.
“To stay level-headed, the experienced guys do a good job of that,” said Eller, who scored the Cup-clinching goal for Washington. “You stay emotionally level through a series because there’s ups and downs. Whether you’re up or you’re down, you can never look too far ahead. You also can’t dwell on the past.”
With New Jersey and the New York Rangers tied 2-2, each team has at least one champion to rely on. The Devils’ Ondrej Palat won the Cup twice with Tampa Bay alongside Barclay Goodrow, who is one of three champions on the Rangers roster (Patrick Kane, three titles with Chicago, and Vladimir Tarasenko, who won the Cup with St. Louis in 2019).
Seattle, which is tied 2-2 with Colorado, has the most diverse Cup-winning experience.
Counting injured winger Andre Burakovsky, who won it with Colorado and Washington, the Kraken have a player from each of the past seven title teams: Yanni Gourde (’20 and ‘21 Lightning), Jaden Schwartz and Vince Dunn (’19 Blues), Philipp Grubauer (’18 Capitals) and Justin Schultz (’16 and 17 Penguins).
“Obviously this is a new experience for us as a team,” said Jordan Eberle, who scored the overtime winner Monday for the Kraken to tie the series. “There’s a lot of individuals on this team who have been on long runs and have won Cups, and I think that’s important that we have that experience.”
Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said having Cup champions helps in turning the page, which is important after a big win or a tough loss. Ken Hitchcock, who coached Dallas to the Cup in 1999, sees value in it in multiple areas — from knowing how to minimize mistakes to riding the roller coaster within games and series.
“Those players know how deep you’ve got to dig emotionally and how important that is that you can’t lower the emotion bar, and having gone through it helps the other players because they recognize that you can’t lose that level,” Hitchcock said. “They recognize that getting revved up or getting emotionally charged too early can burn you out because the emotion of the event is so high, so being very methodical and unemotional in your approach really works and players have to go through that to understand it.”
Those lessons are fresh for members of the Avalanche, who had to go through the two-time defending champion Lightning to win the Cup. Forward Mikko Rantanen said the biggest was about mental strength and bouncing back after playing poorly.
There’s also something to be said for the hunger of players who have gone deep into the playoffs, reached the final and come up short. The Bruins, for example, lost in the final in both 2013 and 2019.
“We have guys that went to the doorstep and lost, as well, in a heart-breaking way,” Sweeney said. “Those are battle scars that I think also serve them well.”
AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen in Boston and Pat Graham in Denver contributed.