As we get closer to the start of the 2008 NHL Playoffs, it’s time to take a serious look at Lord Stanley’s contenders. Again, there seems to be a jam around eighth place in both divisions. With only ten games to go, we still have a dozen teams competing for the chance to go to the big dance. Here’s our list of the top-rated teams for both divisions.
1. Ottawa Senators – Although the Sens have had a cold streak in the last 15 games, it seems that lately they are recovering their charm. A healthy team and a confident Martin Gerber will not only win the conference for the Senators, they will take them a long way in the Playoffs.
2. New Jersey Devils – These guys are perennial contenders. They don’t have the talent of the Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings, but they do have Martin Brodeur and a system that the whole team agrees on.
3. Montreal Canadiens – A solid and well-trained squad, who have been playing very well the last ten games. His longevity in the Playoffs will depend entirely on Young Carey Price. His lack of experience may mean an early exit from the playoffs for Les Habitants.
4. Carolina Hurricanes – One of the least valued teams in the East Division. Perhaps this is simply due to their location, but the Dogs have a very talented crew. If you can get something solid in Cam Ward’s goal, look for these guys to challenge for the division title.
5. New York Rangers – Currently one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 7 of their last 10 games. There’s a ton of offensive talent on this team and if Lundqvist can handle the pressure, then this team will do a very decent run in the playoffs.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins – Yes, we have the Pens in sixth place in the East division. Yes, the Penguins have the best player (possibly) the NHL has seen since Gretzky. Yes, they have added Marion Hossa to their arsenal and yes, they have a ton of other offensive talents in Malkin, Staal and Sykora. However, defense and goal win the Stanley Cups and this team is lacking in both areas. It could be another first-round outing for the Pens.
7. Buffalo Sabers – Brian Campbell’s departure is a devastating loss for the Sabers. Although they have had a horrible streak in the last ten games, winning only three of them. The Sabers are a tough squad with a lot of talent and a great goal. Buffalo will make his way to the playoffs, but will run out of gas and fall in the first round.
8. Florida Panthers – The darkest horse in the east winning their last six games in a row. Although the Bruins and Flyers have two games in hand over the Panthers, Florida has a much weaker schedule ahead. Look for the Panthers to jump on your way to the final playoff spot in the East.
9. Philadelphia Flyers – It has been a rough season on Broad Street this year. Many new faces have been brought to Philadelphia and they may need a little more time together to consolidate. Next year may be your year, but for now, can you say … Fore?
10. Boston Bruins – A very mediocre team at best with a very tough schedule ahead. This team needs a household name on their roster otherwise it will remain a mediocre team … At best!
11. Washington Capitals – By winning six of their last ten, these guys are far from out of the playoffs. However, of the ten teams they have left, they lost to seven of them last time.
12. Toronto Maple Leafs – One of the hottest teams in the league right now. Too little too late! Fletcher has a lot of work to do.
WESTERN CONFERENCE 1. Detroit Red Wings – The most talented and complete club in all of hockey. Superior in every aspect of the game, from top to bottom. Barring a total collapse, this team should play for the Stanley Cup in June.
2. Sharks of San José – The hottest team in the league right now wins its last 11 matches in a row. Sharks are like the demons of western New Jersey. They don’t have a lot of offensive talent once you get past Joe Thornton, but they play a solid defensive game and have a great Goaltender in Nabokov. The incorporation of Brian Campbell does not hurt either.
3. Anaheim Ducks – Solid in attack, solid in defense and solid in goal. Another complete team that is sure to make noise in the playoffs. Especially now that Burkey has his boys back (Selanne and Niedermayer).
4. Colorado avalanche – Colorado has had a good year considering the injuries of Ryan Smyth and Joe Sakic. Some may even say they are over it. The addition of Forsberg won’t hurt the team, but it still won’t be enough to get through the second round.
5. Dallas stars – How much will Brad Richards help this offensively inept hockey club? Well, with eight points in his first six games with the Stars, he will help this team a lot. If Turco can shake off the nervousness, then this team has the ability to make a lot of noise during the playoffs.
6. Calgary Flames – The hopes and dreams of this team rest with none other than Mikka Kirprusuff. The Flames have been very average lately, but they have the talent to do some damage in playoff time.
7. Vancouver Canucks – Another team of a somewhat average nature. It is not the strongest club, but a club that has the potential to make a considerable run in the Playoffs. However, for that to happen, all the reels must click at the same time and Luongo must play better than he has lately.
8. Phoenix Coyotes – Talk about your underdog. With eleven games to go, the Coyotes play nine teams they beat last time. He has been playing very well defensively, allowing just 19 goals in his last 10 games. Ilya Bryzgalov has become a first-class goalkeeper and he may be able to carry this team on his back for the next time.
9. Minnesota Wild – By winning just three games out of the last ten, Minnesota will really have to cope if it wants to keep its place in the playoffs. This team has been babbling for a while and losing the last 5 games in a row isn’t going to boost their confidence at all.
10. Nashville Predators – With only 9 games remaining, the Predators are in a very precarious position. The good news is that they have a pretty loose schedule. Six of his remaining nine games are against Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis.
11. Edmonton Oilers – With a very slim chance of making the playoffs, the Oilers are not mathematically out of contention at the moment. They have been playing their best hockey all year recently, recording 7 wins in the last 10 games. Another case of Too little to be late.
12. Chicago Blackhawks – Playing 3 games over .500 is considered a very good year for the Hawks. This is a young team that has been without Martin Havlat for more than half of the regular season. Expect the Hawks to be a serious contender … Next year!
So who will take Lord Stanley home this year? At this stage, we lean toward Ottawa from the east and toward Detroit from the west. One thing’s for sure, it’s an exciting time for hockey fans and this should be a very close race to the finish with possibly more sets of sevens than we’ve seen in some time.
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