Thursday, May 23, 2013

2013 NHL Playoff Contenders and Pretenders

By Andrew Jones

Of the eight remaining teams in the NHL playoffs, the five most recent champions all remain. This year's NHL playoffs is filled with teams and players with playoff experience. I think it is very unlikely that we see a champion arise from the remaining eight that hasn't won the championship in recent memory. Let's take a look at the remaining teams and their chances of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are surprisingly down 2-1 to the Detroit Red Wings in their current series. Detroit had to win their last four games to squeak into the playoffs for the 22nd straight year, then the Red Wings managed to beat the Anaheim Ducks in seven games, a victory that few saw coming. Chicago has been very dominant all year, but so had the Ducks, and it just may be that the Red Wings manage to thwart the Blackhawks record-breaking season.

I think the Blackhawks will find a way to beat the Red Wings, and the Kings or Sharks, but they'll probably struggle to beat the Penguins or Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.

Chances of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup: 15%

Pittsburgh Penguins

I did not have much faith in the Penguins when the playoffs began. I thought they could beat the rather weak New York Islanders, which they did, but I didn't know how the second round would go. Then the Ottawa Senators upset the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh got another favorable matchup in the second round of the playoffs as they align the highest ranked team with the lowest ranked team in the second round of the playoffs, much like the NFL.

Sidney Crosby's return is about the most obvious difference maker one can point to. While there are obviously some very tough teams left in the playoff race, including the last three champions, I think the Penguins, with Sidney Crosby, will simply be tough to beat. A well-rested Boston team could give them trouble, but a five game series would help the Penguins to be solidly rested as well. We'll see if they can put the Senators away quickly in the next few days.

I think that the Penguins have the best chance to win the NHL's most prized possession, which I certainly wouldn't have said last month when Crosby was out with his jaw injury. They have all the right things working at the right time.

Chances of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup: 35%

Boston Bruins

The Bruins are riding a ridiculous wave of awesome ever since coming back from three goals down in the third period of game seven in their series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their overtime win against the Rangers in game one of their current series seemed to solidify a momentum that only the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins could potentially stop. I think the champion will likely come out of the Eastern conference. Whether that is the Penguins or the Bruins remains to be seen.

Chances of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup: 20%

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have won one game on the road so far in the playoffs this year. That's not going to cut it for the defending champions. Although, it isn't shocking, considering they went 8-12-4 on the road during the regular season. Two of the three final games in their series with the Sharks are at home, but if the Kings have to face the Blackhawks in the Western Conference final, they are going to have to win on the road.

But if Detroit can manage to upset the Blackhawks, the Kings are looking at more home games ... but they have to get by the Sharks first. The Sharks have the momentum, but the Kings have the Staples Center, where they have not lost in the playoffs and where they went 19-4-1 in the regular season. We'll see which way momentum shifts in Game 5 and if the Red Wings can keep the Blackhawks on the ropes.

Chances of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup: 10%

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks were fined $100,000 the other day for comments they made about Raffi Torres' suspension. When your wallet is $100,000 lighter, it's a solid motivation to win. When you're playing without a tough player such as Torres, you want to win so you can see him return to the lineup.

I personally find it interesting that this is Torres' fourth suspension. He is a repeat offender. But he had more points this year (18) than minutes in the penalty box (17).

Ultimately, the Sharks have to find a way to win at the Staples Center, and doing so in Game 5 would make for a six-game series in my opinion. They have the Kings on the ropes. Win on the road and the series is yours. But good luck moving on past that.

Chances of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup: 5%

Detroit Red Wings

When the Red Wings beat the Ducks, they won all four of their games by one goal and three of them in overtime. One of the games they lost to the Ducks was in overtime. Against the Blackhawks, the games have not been so close. None of the first three games was even a one-goal game, much less an overtime game.

Even if the Red Wings manage to beat the Blackhawks, they won't do it in five games, and they are going to be one tired team after two difficult series against two of the NHL's best teams. They've already overachieved this season in my opinion. I don't think Lord Stanley's Cup is not in the cards for them this season, but sometimes we see a team that simply arises with nothing but guts and grit to win it all. If there is a team of destiny in this year's playoff race, it could be the Red Wings…or the Bruins ... you know, epic comeback and all.

Chances of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup: 10%

New York Rangers

The Rangers are dead in the water. Down 3-0 to the Bruins, I think a comeback of such epic proportions is simply out of the question.

Chances of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup: 1%

Ottawa Senators

The Senators surprised a lot of people in beating the Canadiens as handily as they did. They won two of their games by five goals. I'm not sure what happened to the Habs, but the Senators impressiveness waned quickly when matched up against the Penguins. All that being said, their double-overtime win over the Penguins on Sunday may provide a bit of a momentum shift. Another game at home on Wednesday will give us the true chances of the Senators, but I think they'll be looking at offseason vacations very soon.

Chances of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup: 4%

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