In the Eastern Conference, it looks like the field has
been narrowed down to the eight teams we are likely to see. In the Western
Conference, that’s another story.
While the time is running out, there are still 10 teams
with a legitimate shot at making the postseason in the West. Here’s a look at
which teams are for real this season and which are going to be playing XBOX
over the summer:
Like: Without a doubt, they are the most complete
team in the NHL, which is why they will likely be the Presidents’ Trophy
winners. They are the only team in the NHL to hit the 50-win mark and for
passionate Canadian hockey fans, this will be their country’s best chance to
win a Stanley Cup in the last five years.
Dislike: The Vancouver Canucks have two major
concerns; injuries and pedigree. Regarding injuries, the blue line has been hit
hard with injuries to Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis. Up front, pesky forward Manny
Malhotra is out for the season. Those are all key losses that the Canucks may
not be able to withstand. Also, the Canucks don’t have that killer instinct or
the experience of doing it before. They tend to disappoint in the playoffs and
while this is the best edition of them that we’ve seen, they need to buck their
underachieving trends in the postseason.
Detroit Red Wings
Like: As per usual, the Detroit Red Wings are a
contender. When healthy, they have a scary amount of depth up front with 12
players notching at least 30 points this season. With head coach Mike Babcock
and a very experienced roster, they are going to be a threat to win it all once
the second season starts.
Dislike: They haven’t played well at home in the
second half of the season, which is a tad surprising given how dominant they
usually are at Joe Louis Arena. Injuries have also hampered them but they have
managed to stay afloat in the regular season. In the postseason, it could sink
them. Also, how much do you trust goaltender Jimmy Howard in the playoffs?
San Jose Sharks
Like: The snap-judge reaction is to write this
team off given how badly they’ve underachieved in the postseason the last few
years and how ugly their start to the season was, but be careful in crossing
them off the list. They are 23-4-4 in their last 29 and roll into the playoffs
with plenty of momentum. Goaltender Anti Niemi is hot and their offense is in
Dislike: Why trust a team that has consistently
fallen flat on their face in the postseason? The San Jose Sharks have had
better teams than this version, which has played Jekyll-Hyde all season long. Will
they revert back to the team that looked horrible to start the season or will
they continue to play like they have in the last two months?
Like: They are an underrated, overlooked team in
the Western Conference. They have won eight of their last 11 games and when
goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is on his game as he has been recently, they can play
with anyone in the NHL. Last year, they were a surprise playoff participant.
This year, they have some experience under their belt and have raised the bar
on their expectations.
Dislike: If the playoffs were to start today,
their goal differential would be the second worst among the eight playoff
teams. They are always competitive but they tend to squeak by in their wins.
Bryzgalov needs to stand on his head for them to win two rounds and the greater
likelihood is a well-rounded team with more offensive firepower takes them out
before then. They are only 23-19 against winning teams this season.
Los Angeles Kings
Like: All they seemed to lack this season was some
more goal scoring and they seemed to address that need with the acquisition of
forward Dustin Penner. Management made the move and sent a clear message to the
players: we’re ready to make a run. This is another underrated West Coast team
with solid defense and stellar goaltending. They’ve allowed just 181 goals this
season, which is the second fewest in the conference. The question is will they
get the goal scoring?
Dislike: And the answer to that question right now
is likely a ‘no’. The LA Kings just lost their leading scorer, Anze Kopitar, to a
broken ankle that will keep him out four-to-six weeks. That’s on top of the
loss of Justin Williams, who is also out for the next little while with a
shoulder injury. They might have enough scoring to get by in Round One but they
won’t last much longer than that unless they find a way to score without two
Like: As head coach Barry Trotz put it, they have
been playing playoff hockey for over a month now. If that’s how they are going
to play, it could be a good omen. They’ve won six straight, nine of 10 and are
10-2-2 in their last 14. Goaltender Pekka Rinne is quietly making a run at the
Vezina Trophy and with a GAA of 2.10, no opponent wants to see him in the first
Dislike: The Preds are just 19-17-3 on the road
this season and considering they would be a six-seed if the playoffs started
today, they are going to be fighting uphill to win any series. They’re still
viewed as a little brother in the conference and they always will be until they
accomplish something. Sure, they can spar with Phoenix, Los Angeles or Anaheim,
but nobody really believes they can knock off Vancouver and Detroit – or
possibly both – in a serious playoff run.
Like: If Jonas Hiller is healthy enough to
backstop this team in the playoffs, they could be a surprisingly tough team to
defeat. Their top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan is among the
best in the NHL. This is a team with some experience and good head coach, so
don’t put anything past them. The only reason that this team isn’t higher in
the standings has been shoddy goaltending, mostly when Hiller has been out
dealing with his dizziness. If he can steady the situation between the pipes,
the Ducks could surprise.
Dislike: How healthy is Hiller? The Anaheim Ducks All-Star
goaltender is getting closer to his return but he returned once and quickly
went back to resting as his dizziness resurfaced. On the scoring front, while
they do have Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu on their second line, many people
wonder how much depth this team really has.
Like: These are the Stanley Cup Champions and they
should qualify for the postseason to defend their crown. There’s plenty of
weaponry with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, which is why the Chicago
Blackhawks have scored the third most goals in the NHL. Experience, coaching
and pedigree are all on their side. They’ve done this before.
Dislike: With just 90 points, they might not even
make the playoffs. The Blackhawks have played better in the second half of the
season but they still tend to be vulnerable between the pipes when rookie
goaltender Corey Crawford goes through his rough patches. He’s never been in
the postseason before and he could be a weak link. Overall, this just isn’t the
same team as last year. The magic is gone and so are a number of key
Like: They have been extremely valiant over the
second half of the season. Since starting the year 18-20-5, the Calgary Flames
are 19-8-6. While it first looked like they were a veteran team that had
expired, they have played like a cohesive, experienced unit and picked
themselves out of the dumps.
Dislike: A horrible start to the season is really
coming back to haunt them. While the Flames have been valiant, they still tend
to win with smoke and mirrors. There aren’t many forwards that can be relied
upon for scoring on a nightly basis other than Jarome Iginla and goaltender
Miikka Kiprusoff has been shaky. Even if they manage to squeak into the
playoffs, their stay won’t be very long.
Like: The Dallas Stars have a slightly better
chance of making the playoffs than the Flames as they have two extra games in
hand. While most pundits expected them to trade away Brad Richards at the trade
deadline and just fold down the tent, the Stars kept their main man and have
been scratching and clawing their way to the playoffs. They don’t make it
Dislike: They just don’t have it. Their penalty
kill ranks 23rd, their power play ranks 14th and their
goaltending has been up-and-down this season. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen has just
one win in his last six outings. They aren’t overwhelmingly good in any one
particular area and they’ll be exposed come playoff time when only the elite