Speed major key to success

BARRY MACDONALD -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

For those of you not exactly embracing this year's final four as a fab four, you might want to broaden your thinking.

Granted, the marquee value isn't what it could be with Edmonton, Anaheim, Buffalo and Carolina left to pursue hockey's holy grail.

Not exactly the Big Bad Bruins, Flying Frenchman or Gretzky's Oilers.

But there is a silver lining to this year's conference matchups, and it should bode well for the future of the game.

The four teams still vying for Lord Stanley's cherished chalice all have something in common: Speed.

They are playing the game, for the most part (see the neutral zone trap rear its ugly head in Edmonton's vanquishing of Detroit) the way the good Lord intended it to be played. Or, at the very least, the way the league powers decided it should be played prior to the start of the 2005-06 season.

Anything involving a fast surface, and I would include ice in that category, should be played at a certain level of giddyup. The same giddyup that had giddyupped and gone following the 1994 Stanley Cup final involving a certain local team and the New York Rangers.

That fantastic final was followed up by the start of the dead puck era, authored by Jacques Lemaire. He coached the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup title in 1995, employing a style that was akin to watching paint dry.

Given the option, I would go the enamel route.

Lemaire is considered one of the best coaches in the game, given his ability to get his players to embrace what he asks for. He asked for them to smother the other teams with a neutral zone checking style, that rendered any opposing forays from blueline to blueline. The result was low-scoring, boring, artless hockey. And a couple of Stanley Cups. And worse, the start of the dead-puck era.

Over a 10-year period, the Devils won three Cups playing the dreaded trap. The Dallas Stars won one, under Ken Hitchcock's uh, defensive preachings. The likes of Buffalo, Washington, Florida, Carolina and Anaheim all reached the final.

Not one of those teams really had any business being there but they did have one thing in common. A commitment to defense ... a commitment to the trap.

It was copycat hockey. It worked for Lemaire, why not us. It wasn't pretty, and we can only hope it is in the rearview mirror.

Which brings us to this year, and why final the four should impact positively on the game.

When teams have success in any sport, other organizations tend to follow.

Why not emulate the champion, or the teams that came close? If that is indeed the case, more teams will look to employ the speed element to a sport that has so desperately lacked it over the last 10 years.

With any luck, the trap will have had its day. Good riddance. The fastest sport on ice might well be back.

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