The National Hockey League is full of parity this year (as it generally is), which makes playoff time a ton of fun. While there are certainly some clearly defined upper echelon teams heading into the playoffs, even the pundits do not agree on which team will be hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup above their heads at the end of the year.
Let’s take a look at this year’s playoffs and define which teams are clearly in the running and why. For kicks, we’ll throw in a team that you might not have on your radar, but should.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Talk about a trial by fire, the Blues jump into the playoffs and faceoff against the reigning champion Los Angeles Kings. Even though the Blues are a No. 4 and the Kings a No. 5, most experts are handing the series to Los Angles.
But, not so fast.
After winning the Cup last year as a No. 8 seed, the Kings came into the playoffs with a whimper and do not seem to have that consistency they did during last year’s run. Consistency isn’t exactly St. Louis’ strong point, either, but they are a deep team. In fact, 10 players on the Blues roster have scored 20 points this season with two more adding 19. You can have a strong line, but it’s tough to mimic this overwhelming depth.
Heavy is the head that wears the grown. The No. 1-seeded Penguins can just ask Vancouver, which fell in the first round last year to Los Angeles after garnering the top seed. Do not expect Pittsburgh to suffer a similar fate to Vancouver, though, as they look to handle the New York Islanders in the first round and surge ahead.
The Pens are undoubtedly the best team in hockey right now with the ability to pile up goals, led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They have one stout defensive line after another to match. If there is a favorite in the playoffs it is (or should be) the Penguins.
Sticking in the Eastern Conference, No. 4-seeded Boston has a real shot, as many pundits are expecting them to overwhelm the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. This is a physical team that puts up around 2.6 goals per game. With forwards like newly acquired Jaromir Jagr and Tyle Seguin, the Bruins have talented goal scorers and move the puck around well.
Their nitty-gritty style suits the playoffs well, but the Bruins are going to have to learn to keep the energy up during the third period instead of fading like they have been known to.
DETROIT RED WINGS
The Red Wings just snuck into the playoffs, making it 22 straight appearances. However, they are seeded a lowly No. 7 and are a game down on the Anaheim Ducks already.
Still, you cannot discount postseason experience, which is about the one big thing Detroit has going for it. They also have a strong goalie in Jimmy Howard who will keep these underdogs in just about every game during the postseason.