LOS ANGELES -- This is a copycat league.
When you consider what the Boston Bruins are doing to the Pittsburgh Penguins on the heels of how the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup last spring, which by the way came on the heels of the Bruins winning the year before, well, you’ve got more than a little trend happening here.
A grind-it-out, physical brand of hockey is the winning recipe these days.
"The last two teams that won the Stanley Cup play great team games, get contributions from everybody in the lineup -- it’s not about one player," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Thursday morning after I asked him if he saw the same parallels between his team and the Bruins. "You have to be able to play a 200-foot game, you have to be very disciplined in all three zones, you have to stay out of the penalty box; you can play a physical game without taking penalties. ... I know we’re one of the lower-penalized teams in the league, so that has an impact on the other’s top players and on your ability to defend."
In the Kings’ dressing room, I threw this line of thinking at veteran center Jarret Stoll. He thought about it for a moment and concurred.
"I think that’s right," Stoll said. "Four lines, limit chances, good on special teams and very physical."
It’s not surprising to the St. Louis Blues either. This is their brand of hockey as well, which produced an explosive, physical series in the first round with the Kings. Two identical brands knocking heads in the opening round, it was something to behold.
"I think the way Boston and L.A. and some other teams play now is to get on the forecheck, create the turnovers and then start and buy as much time as you can offensively," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told ESPN.com over the phone Thursday. "It’s a four-line game with lots of physical play. The best way to describe it: It’s all about the harder you check, the more scoring chances you’re going to get.
"But it doesn’t happen unless you have defensemen who can move the puck, that allows you to get on the forecheck. Both Los Angeles and Boston have great defense[men] who can head-man the puck and get them out of trouble."
The question is whether the Chicago Blackhawks have adjusted their game enough since their 2010 Cup year to still win it all today given how the game has changed. I believe they have.
The fire-wagon hockey that Pittsburgh played in 2009 to win the Cup and that the Blackhawks matched in 2010 is clearly no longer the best bet to win.
But what the Hawks, at least to me, have demonstrated in these playoffs is that you can blend that high-end skill with a more responsible defensive game.
If the Blackhawks do win the Cup this year, it’s because they’re a hybrid product of the times, still having some high-octane qualities, like the stretch pass, but certainly more willing to grind out some shifts when needed.
"You need your skill guys to buy in," said Hitchcock. "To me, you look at [Patrick] Sharp and [Marian] Hossa, for example; those guys have bought in. And then you add a different element like [Bryan] Bickell in there as well."
But overall, it’s still a team that appears physically overmatched by the Bruins.
What you’re going to see is renewed emphasis by GMs around the league on size and strength over smaller, skilled players.
The post-lockout 2005-06 season and crackdown on obstruction that year signaled a new era for the NHL with more offense and as a more welcoming place for smaller, skilled players.
But it’s clear with the success of the Bruins and Kings that we’re back to teams wanting bigger, more physical players -- and, certainly, a specific brand of hockey.