Playoff hockey (or any big game, regardless of sport) creates mental challenges for both the player and the team. How do you respond? The best way to handle the mental pressure is to focus on your team’s strategy for the game and what you can do to execute that strategy. Teams should rely on good practice and preparation to get the job done. But what happens when something goes wrong — a bad goal, a change in momentum, a loss? Can the player (and the team) maintain their focus and their confidence? The ability to overcome mistakes and momentum shifts is the sign of a mentally tough team.

In looking back at Saturday’s nights Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals between Chicago and Philadelphia, both teams had moments of brilliance and moments of blunder.

For the Hawks, a couple of quick Philly goals, seemed to affect the way they played the game. In the series against San Jose, they had all the confidence in the world in their goaltender Antii Niemi and as a result, played more aggressively and with more of an edge, leading to greater offensive opportunities. But as Saturday’s game progressed, they seemed to lose some confidence in Niemi, that resulted in the players sagging back on defense, collapsing to the net much more, and losing focus on their defensive responsibilities.

For Philadelphia, how does goaltender Michael Leighton respond in Game 2 following being pulled from the net in Game 1. Can he rebound with a stellar performance? How does being pulled from a game
affect a goaltender’s level of confidence?

The Hawks escaped with the win, but how is their overall confidence right now? To win the Cup, they need to display complete belief in their goaltending. The Flyers had a chance for a huge road win, but now they are down one game, and are going back to Leighton in net for tonight’s game. How will he (and his team) respond?

Which team can maintain composure and confidence? Which goalie can display the most mental toughness, shaking off Game 1 and coming out focused and ready to play for Game 2?

Either way, tonight’s Game 2 should be awesome — Go Hawks!