Being the diehard hockey fan that I am, why not write about who I think will win the Stanley Cup this season? The playoffs are just around the corner and teams are beginning to clinch their playoff spots. Below are the five teams that I think have the best chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. Let the countdown commence!
5. Chicago Blackhawks: Did you think that the team who won it all last year wouldn’t favor into the mix this year? Sure, they lost a lot of key players including Dustin Byfuglien (ATL) and Antti Niemi (SJ), but this team knows what is on the line. Patrick Sharp has exploded for 34 goals this season and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are both averaging a point a game or better. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook continue to anchor the defense and rookie goalie Corey Crawford has been outstanding in net, collecting three shutouts and maintaining a 2.33 goals against average through 47 games. If they hang on to clinch a spot in the crowded Western Conference, expect them to be a legitimate contender for another championship.
4. Washington Capitals: After going 9-1-0 in their last 10 games, the Capitals find themselves sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference. Left-winger Alex Ovechkin only has 29 goals this year, but has found plenty of support from teammates Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. The Caps added Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm at the deadline to help their offense and 21-year-old defenseman John Carlson has contributed 32 points in his first full season. With three solid goalies (Neuvirth, Varlamov and Holtby), it will be interesting to see who gets the starting nod in the playoffs as the Capitals try to rebound from their first-round trouncing in last year’s playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens.
3. Detroit Red Wings: There is a reason the Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs every year since the 1990-91 season. Quite simply, they know how to step up come playoff time. The Wings are led by Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, who leads the team with 27 goals. Zetterberg has 73 points in 73 games played and captain Nicklas Lidstrom, now 40 years old, has 57 points, good for second in the league among defensemen. Jimmy Howard has 34 wins for Detroit this season and has benefited from the well-built team in front of him. The Wings currently occupy the second seed in the West and can do tons of damage once the playoffs commence in April.
2. Philadelphia Flyers: A return to the Cup Final is certainly a possibility this year, but only if the Flyers step on the gas pedal right now. Goaltending is the big question with Bobrovsky and Boucher still in the mix for the starting nod; my bet is that Bobrovsky will be the starter come playoff time, but you never know. Claude Giroux’s breakout season has been huge for Philly’s offense as he leads the team with 66 points. Jeff Carter and Danny Briere both have hit the 30-goal plateau and Mike Richards has quietly put together a strong season (60 points in 73 games). When Chris Pronger returns you can expect Philly to regain their mid-season dominance and advance deep into the playoffs. Remember: 1975 was a long, long time ago and this team is built to win now.
1. Vancouver Canucks: It is time for the Canucks to hoist their first Stanley Cup. Led by the Sedin twins, the Canucks are in the lead for the President’s Trophy, which is awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the regular season. The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, are easily two of the league’s most dynamic players and are also leaders on the team. Daniel leads the team with 38 goals and 93 points but Henrik is right behind him with 68 assists and 86 points. Ryan Kesler has built upon his 75-point season from a year ago and already has a career-high 36 goals this year. Defensively, Vancouver is anchored by the likes of Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Sami Salo and, as a team, has only surrendered 172 goals this season. Roberto Luongo, one of the league’s elite goaltenders, sports a 2.23 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. The Canucks have had to deal with a number of injuries this season, but with Luongo having one of his best seasons and the Sedin twins terrorizing other teams on a nightly basis, I think Vancouver has all the right pieces to win the Stanley Cup.