Who will win the Stanley Cup?
April 2008 By James Mirtle
Conventional wisdom says the NHL playoffs these days are the home of upsets and Cinderella stories, but the cold, hard facts state otherwise.
Its the favorites that win out in the end, more often than not.
Consider that, since the New Jersey Devils unlikely win in 1995, no team has won the Stanley Cup after finishing lower than third in its conference.
Getting home-ice advantage, if only in the first round, matters, and not falling into the dead zone of a 4-5 matchup does, too. Its a long two months through Four playoff rounds, and having an easy series or two sets the stage for a big finish.
Long the class of the league, the Detroit Red Wings will win yet another Presidents Trophy this year as the top regular-season team, making them a solid bet to go deep into the postseason. Detroit leads the league in goals for and against, has more secondary scoring than last season and is getting healthy in time for April.
Also in line as one of this years top teams, the defending champion Anaheim Ducks have put up a big-time season despite missing Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne for half the year. Theyve gone 28-11-4 since getting Niedermayer back in the lineup in mid-December and have essentially the same cast as last years group. The additions of Mathieu Schneider, Todd Bertuzzi and Doug Weight also cant hurt.
Next in line are the San Jose Sharks, who have been second to only Detroit in terms of goals against this season. Netminder Evgeni Nabokov has had a Vezina Trophy-worthy season and the trade for Brian Campbell filled a huge hole on the back end. San Jose hasnt lost a Game in regulation in over a month (14-0-1), and is the NHLs hottest team heading into the playoffs.
Another hot team that has ridden a high-flying offence to the top of the Eastern Conference is the Pittsburgh Penguins, a club with incredible star power in Sidney Crosby and Hart Trophy candidate Evgeni Malkin. If Crosbys healthy and the team gets decent netminding, the Penguins could easily be the class of the Conference and give a Western Conference finalist a run for their money.
The dark horses
Five teams fit the bill as legitimate Stanley Cup dark horses from the remaining teams.
Calgary Flames: They may finish with fewer points than Detroit or Anaheim, but Calgarys been on par with the top teams in the Western Conference this season. If Miikka Kiprusoff can turn around what has been an otherwise average season, look out.
Minnesota Wild: Always under the radar, the Wilds young core has matured into a group now capable of outscoring its opposition instead of relying solely on coach Jacques Lemaires neutral-zone trap. Minnesota has horses like Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns, but itll be a question of whether they can survive the Western Conference dogfight early on.
New York Rangers: Another of the leagues hottest teams, the Blueshirts were 21-20-6 and on the playoff bubble two months ago, but have gone 18-5-4 since to move into contention for the Atlantic Division lead. The Rangers have been a bit of a sleeping giant all season, with subpar performances from Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanhan holding back the teams offence, but with an improved, young defense core and terrific goaltending, they could certainly make some noise.
New Jersey Devils: Incredibly stingy, as always, they rely heavily on goaltender Martin Brodeur, who is always a threat to steal a playoff series and take his team on a run. An unheralded crew on defense makes them an underdog this season despite a high finish in the standings.
Ottawa Senators: Despite all of the controversy this season surrounding goaltender Ray Emery, dont count out last seasons Eastern Conference champs. With Martin Gerber in the net and the Big Three firing on all cylinders up front, this is still one of the most dangerous teams in the league and the additions of Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore could still pay off.
Dallas Stars: Lack of scoring depth and Marty Turcos playoff history holds them back
Montreal Canadiens: Two rookies in goal make a deep run unlikely
Vancouver Canucks: Its all Roberto Luongo here, and teams with more depth will shut down the Canucks few threats
Carolina Hurricanes: Season-ending injuries have decimated the Canes lineup
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