As we approach the start of the 2008 NHL Playoffs, it’s time to take a serious look at the contenders for Lord Stanley. Once again, there seems to be a bottleneck around eighth place in both divisions. With only about ten games to go, we still have a dozen teams competing for a chance to go to the big dance. Here is our list of the highest rated teams for both divisions.
1. Ottawa Senators – Although the Sens had a cold streak in the last 15 games, they seem to be getting their mojo back lately. A healthy squad and a confident Martin Gerber will not only win the conference for the Senators, but will carry them far in the Playoffs.
2. New Jersey Devils – These guys are perennial contenders. They don’t have the talent of the Ottawa Senators or the Detroit Red Wings, but they do have Martin Brodeur and a system that the entire team embraces.
3. Montreal Canadians – A solid, complete squad that has been playing very well in the last ten games. His playoff longevity will depend entirely on Young Carey Price. His lack of experience could mean an early exit from the Playoffs for Les Habitants.
4. Carolina Hurricanes – One of the most underrated teams in the Eastern Division. Perhaps this is simply due to its location, but the Canes have a very talented team. If they can get a solid goal from Cam Ward, look for these guys to challenge for the division title.
5. New York Ranger – Currently one of the best teams in the league, winning 7 of their last 10 games. There is a lot of offensive talent on this team and if Lundqvist can handle the pressure then this team will make 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 (arguably) the NHL has seen since Gretzky. Yes, they have added Marion Hossa to their arsenal and yes, they have plenty of other offensive talent in Malkin, Staal and Sykora. However, defense and goalkeeping win Stanley Cups and this team lacks 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 run in the last ten games, winning only three of them. The Sabers are a tough team with a lot of talent and a very strong goal. Buffalo will try to make the Playoffs, but will run out of gas and fall in the first round.
8. Florida Panthers – The darkest horse in the east winning his last six games in a row. Although the Bruins and Flyers have two games remaining over the Panthers, Florida has a much weaker schedule ahead of them. Look for the Panthers to fight their way to the final Playoff spot in the East.
9. Philadelphia Flyers – It’s been a tough season on Broad Street this year. Lots of new faces have been brought to Philly and maybe they need a little more time together to freeze. Next year may be his year, but for now, can you say… Fore?
10. Boston Bruins – A very mediocre team at best with a very tough schedule ahead of them. This team needs a familiar name on their roster, otherwise they will remain a mediocre team… At best!
11. Capitals of Washington – Winning six of their last ten, these guys are far from out of the playoffs. However, of their remaining ten teams, they have lost to seven of them in the last time out.
12. Toronto Maple Leaves – One of the best teams in the league right now. Too little and too late! Fletcher has his work cut out for him.
WESTERN CONFERENCE 1. Detroit Red Wings – The most talented and complete club in all of hockey. Superior in every aspect of the game, top to bottom. Unless it has completely collapsed, this team should be playing for the Stanley Cup in June.
2. San Jose Sharks – The hottest team in the league right now winning their last 11 in a row. The Sharks are like the New Jersey Devils of the West. They don’t have much offensive talent once you get past Joe Thornton, but they play a solid defensive game and have a great goalkeeper 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 some noise in the Playoffs. Especially now that Burkey has the boys back from him (Selanne and Niedermayer).
4. Colorado Avalanche – Colorado has had a good year considering injuries to 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 them 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’ll help this team a lot. If Turco can shake off the jitters, 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 on none other than Mikka Kirprusuff. The Flames have been very average lately, but they have the talent to do some damage come playoff time.
7. Vancouver Canucks – Another team that is somewhat mediocre by nature. It is not the strongest club, but it is a club that has the potential to make a considerable run in the Playoffs. However, for that to happen, all the reels have to click at the same time and Luongo has to play better than he has lately.
8. Phoenix Coyotes – Talk about your underdog. With eleven games remaining, the Coyotes play against nine teams that won in the last half. They have been playing very well defensively, allowing only 19 goals in their last 10 games. Ilya Bryzgalov has become a first class goalkeeper and it is possible that he can carry this team on his back for the next time.
9. Wild Minnesota – Winning just three games of the last ten, Minnesota will really have to get it right if it wants to keep its place in the playoffs. This team has been floundering for a while and losing the last 5 games in a row will not 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 weak schedule ahead. Six of their remaining nine games are against Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis.
11. Edmonton Oilers – With a slim chance of making the playoffs, the Oilers aren’t mathematically out of contention yet. They have been playing their best hockey all year recently, posting 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 the regular season. Look for the Hawks to be a serious contender… Next year!
So who will bring Lord Stanley home this year? At this stage we lean towards Ottawa from the east and Detroit from the west. One thing is for sure, it’s an exciting time for hockey fans and this should be a very close race to the finish with possibly more seven games than we’ve seen in a long time!
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