The NHL regular season will be coming to a close on Sunday, April 28th, which means that the playoffs are upon us. The Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators will do battle that day. Then the insane season that has been 2013 will turn into something else.
It will turn into an insane playoff tournament.
After the playoff bracket is set, there will be much ballyhoo and breakdowns galore.
Does this eighth seed have a prayer against this first? How do the offenses match up? What about the defenses and the goalies?
And at the end of all of these shakedowns will be a look at the head-to-head coaching matchup. While the subject matter typically comes at the end of looking at how two teams will play against one another, it's far and away one of the most important parts of a good Stanley Cup run.
Coaches are in charge of maintaining a team's highs and low and keeping energy levels high while keeping legs lose and minds at ease. Naturally, some guys are just better at this aspect of the game than others.
Experience helps, as does being in touch with the various aspects and personalities on a given team.
Joel Quenneville is just barely the most accomplished playoff coach among active bench bosses. He's one of many coaches to have captured one Stanley Cup (oddly, there are no active coaches with two Stanley Cup championships on their resume) and has been behind the bench for more postseason matchups than anyone else in the NHL.
Quenneville has commanded teams through a whopping 139 playoff games and has won 72 of them. He is also the current leader in postseason games won.
The 2013 season has been surprisingly challenging for a Chicago Blackhawks team that earned points in an NHL-record 24 straight games. Coaching through the letup that naturally occurred after the team lost to the Colorado Avalanche on March 8th brought valuable experience to both this team and coach.
The playoffs are all about maintaining highs and lows, and while the 'Hawks have been a lock for the postseason in 2013 for quite some time, fighting through the ups and downs that followed will have this team ready to go come the first round.
Perhaps against the Detroit Red Wings. Who wouldn't want to see Chicago and Detroit battle it out in the first round?
Nipping at Joel Quenneville's heals in every active playoff coach category is Mike Babcock. The Detroit Red Wings are currently in a fight for their playoff lives, battling for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference.
While the longest playoff streak in professional sports is on the line, should the embattled and banged-up Wings limp into the playoffs, it will have one of the most established postseason coaches manning the bench.
Babcock is only one playoff victory behind Quenneville, having already racked up 71 postseason wins with the Anaheim Ducks and Red Wings. He's also coached 117 games total en route to three Stanley Cup Final appearances and one Stanley Cup Final victory.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more effective coach come playoff time, and should the Wings manage to make the dance, they'll see their odds of advancing increase a bit just because of who is running the show.
The reigning Jack Adams winner, Ken Hitchcock is among the best coaches in the NHL. He's a veteran presence that has been in just about every conceivable situation. Whether it be winning the Stanley Cup on a controversial goal with the Dallas Stars or trying to right the ship of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Hitch has seen it all.
He's a "goaltender's coach," meaning that his defense-first schemes tend to make netminders look better than they really are. That's no slight to the trio of solid goalies the St. Louis Blues currently boast. Playoff hockey just tends to be defense-based, turning the other guys around and making them work to obtain possession of the puck.
For that reason, there are few better playoff hockey coaches than Hitchcock.
Armed with one of the deepest defensive cores in the NHL heading into the postseason and some big bodies up front, the Blues are poised to make some noise in the Western Conference. Hitch will be there to assure everyone stays in line and plays their part.
He has 130 postseason contests under his belt, winning 70 of those games while winning one Stanley Cup.
Dan Bylsma may not have as much experience as the three previous coaches, but he's every bit as good as them. He inherited the Pittsburgh Penguins from Michel Therrien and immediately clicked with the ultra-talented club.
Not taking the talent on the Penguins for granted, Bylsma has instilled a workmanlike attitude in Pittsburgh, and the results are hard to argue.
Two Stanley Cup Final appearances and one Stanley Cup victory along with continued trips to the playoffs despite rarely having both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin healthy at the same time.
While some coaches may be tempted to take the leash off of the likes of Sid, Geno, Jarome Iginla and Chris Kunitz, Bylsma has them playing a defense-first, turnover-based system that could lead to great results in the playoffs.
The Pens loaded up and are looking for a Stanley Cup in 2013, and they have the perfect guy leading them from behind the bench in Bylsma.
An NHL team can go a long way with a bit of talent buying into a system and mindset 110 percent. That team can go even further when it has a lot of talent but the entire group of guys is still buying into that working system with everything they have.
When you watch the Montreal Canadiens play, you get the feeling that this is exactly what you're watching—a group of talented guys playing up to their coach's expectations and into his system.
There might not be a more straightforward coach in the NHL ("soff like I've never seen soff"), and that kind of bluntness could be a boon for the Canadiens come playoff time. These players are used to rapidly responding to critiques of their play, and that's good since there's no time for dilly-dallying in the postseason.
Therrien has taken one of the worst teams in hockey and turned it into a true Stanley Cup contender. He didn't do astonishing things as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins when he led them to a Stanley Cup Final in 2008, but that doesn't mean he couldn't turn things around for himself in 2013.
If the regular season is any indication, Montreal is poised to do some great things in the playoffs.