As the regular season winds down for the NHL, teams gear up for the final run as they make preparations for the playoffs. Many teams are looking to make history, while others are trying to escape the frustration of last year. Myself, I feel the race for the Stanley Cup is wide open, especially in the Western Conference. You have four teams fighting for the top seed: Vancouver, Detroit, St. Louis, and Chicago. I feel the Canucks will have a good playoff run, but I don’t see them getting the Cup this year. Maybe they will eventually, but not this year. They may have a lot of goal-scoring, but their discipline, penalty killing, and shaky goaltending by Roberto Luongo leaves something to be desired.
The Red Wings are likely a hot favorite going into the playoffs. My only concern is whether or not they can stay healthy. They’ve already lost Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Jonathan Ericsson, and Henrik Zetterberg to injuries, and they can’t afford a major injury this close to the playoffs. I see them having a deep run into the playoffs, but I really hope they don’t run into the San Jose Sharks this year, because the Sharks have had their number the last two years.
The Blues are a wild-card this year. They fired their head coach in the first month of the season, but since then their new coach Ken Hitchcock has remodeled the team into true contenders. I’d be a little worried about who they might have to face in the first round, as well as their injury situation. Brian Elliot can only carry them so far this year, and with Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner out for a significant amount of time, one has to wonder if they still have the depth and players who will step up their game for a long playoff run. The Blackhawks still have a very strong core team, but they’re nothing like the Stanley Cup team of three years ago. I see them being a top contender, but losing out in the second or third round of the playoffs.
You also have 9 teams fighting for the final four playoff spots: San Jose, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Colorado, Nashville, Dallas, Calgary, Anaheim and Minnesota. I honestly don’t see Minnesota or Calgary making it this year. Minnesota’s goaltender Nicklas Backstrom was recently hurt and will hurt them in the long run, plus Calgary and Anaheim have been on cold streaks lately. Los Angeles and Phoenix will definitely be teams to watch going into the playoffs. They’re young, talented, and have players with great potential. The only question is whether or not they can match up against the powerhouse teams in the league.
Colorado and Dallas will be in the thick of things, but the only teams I see making huge impacts in the playoffs are Nashville or San Jose. Nashville won its first playoff series in franchise history last year, and has been coming on as of late. San Jose is still dangerous, but they need to find a way to stop choking when the playoffs come around. They always seem to have a good season, but cant’ step it up when the playoffs arrive. Bottom line, the team I see coming out of the Western Conference this year as the champions will either be Detroit or Vancouver. Don’t be surprised if they have to play each other in the playoffs to determine who gets to play for the Stanley Cup this year.