Three key differences in playoff hockey

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Hockey analytics pioneer Rob Vollman is ESPN Insider's armchair GM this season, exploring how modern statistics can inform front-office decisions.

The playoffs are a brand new season, with far greater speed and intensity than the games played throughout the regular 82-game schedule. Competition is stiffer, everyone is working harder, and there's a greater willingness to sacrifice body and mind, according to the players themselves.

Throughout this season we have applied hockey analytics to a wide variety of topics, and today they're being used to identify the key differences with playoff hockey, and what teams can do to prepare for them, if anything.

There are almost countless small differences between the regular season and the playoffs, based on an objective comparison of some key metrics. Scoring is down, based on a combination of better teams, added preparation, fewer penalties, better goaltending, and more of an emphasis on error-free hockey. There are also more hits, shorter shifts, more blocked shots, longer overtimes and far fewer fights.

All of these differences have been grouped into three broad categories related to the nature of the players and teams involved, the nature of the games themselves, and the reduced scoring in the playoffs.

First difference: More skilled players

The biggest change in the playoffs is the quality of the teams and players involved. Only the top eight teams in each conference compete in the postseason. That means that a league-average team is among the worst participants.