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Five Stanley Cup Contenders in the 2011-12 NHL Playoffs: Fan’s Take
Sixteen teams will begin their quest for the Stanley Cup when the puck drops on the National Hockey League's postseason on Wednesday, April 11. But, in my opinion, these five teams are the true contenders. One of them will lift the Cup at the end of this tournament.
5. Vancouver Canucks — The Canucks earlier this season were rated by their peers as the most overrated team in the NHL, but they finished with the best record to win the Presidents' Trophy (and home ice throghout the playoffs). Of course, the Canucks have nothing left to prove in the regular season. The team that last season was one win away from winning the Stanley Cup has the pieces to make another deep playoff run, but the health of Daniel Sedin, out since March 21 with a concussion, and play between the pipes of Roberto Luongo will be key. The hardened Canucks are not as soft as people think.
4. Nashville Predators — The Predators, who are the second-best road team in the West behind Vancouver, may be the most underrated team in hockey. They have a true No. 1 goaltender in Pekka Rinne and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber anchoring the blue line. Furthermore, Nashville did a nice job bolstering its roster prior to the trade deadline with the additions of experienced defenseman Hal Gill and scoring winger Andrei Kostitsyn. The Preds didn't have a single 30-goal scorer, but 10 players on the team scored at least 10 goals. In other words, Nashville is deep and dangerous.
3. Boston Bruins — Many hockey fans and pundits are down on Boston's chances of repeating, but with reigning Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas between the pipes, the battle-tested Bruins basically are the same team that won the Stanley Cup last spring. Despite a few rough patches, Boston finished the regular season with the greatest goal differential of any team in the NHL at plus-67. Furthermore, the Bruins seemed to get their act together down the stretch with a record of 7-2-1 in their last 10. To be the champs, you have to beat the champs. Beating the Bruins is going to be very difficult.
2. New York Rangers — As someone who grew up an Islanders fan, it's tough for me to admit it, but the Rangers have a great shot at winning their first championship since 1994. They are built for the postseason. Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the best goaltender in the NHL, is capable of stealing games in the playoffs and John Tortorella, who led Tampa Bay to the 2004 Stanley Cup championship, is one of the league's best bench bosses. The Rangers may not have the same firepower as the league's other top contenders, but they have the type of team that's capable of grinding out close playoff games.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins — Without Sidney Crosby, the Penguins were considered one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. With Crosby back, they're downright scary. They have the best player in the game right now in Evgeni Malkin—who did you think, Crosby?—and a battle-tested goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, who led the Pens to the Cup in 2009. Furthermore, the potent Penguins, who led the league in goals scored, boast three capable scoring lines. With incredible depth up the middle and on the blue line, the Pens will be a nightmare for opponents in a long series. I can't see any weaknesses, can you?
Adam Martini is a Winnipeg-based freelance sportswriter and fan of the National Hockey League. He no longer dreads winters now that the Jets have returned to town. Follow Adam on Twitter @PegCitySports.
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