10 Stanley Cup Contenders in a Short 2013 NHL Season

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The thing about a short season is...

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Some NHL fans might say that the team that wins the 2013 Stanley Cup will have earned an ill-begotten gain. It won’t have come from the full effort. It won’t be worth the same. It will be a half-award, an asterisk—but nothing like the real thing. Of course, the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils would beg to differ with that characterization.

In fact, this year it is going to be even more difficult to win the Stanley Cup than it would be in a full 82-game season. With fewer games, but the same prize to win, the business of winning games is going to be a very intense one.

Teams simply cannot afford to let their concentration slip, begin to slump or take a nosedive in the standings. Even a small mistake could keep a team from making the playoffs or put them in a lower seed than they would like.

That is, of course, not to say that an eight-seed can’t win it all. See the team pictured above for more on that.

But in this shortened season, when the points from a regulation win will be practically worth their weight in gold, here is a look at 10 teams that could very well challenge for or even win Lord Stanley this summer. This list includes the three most recent champions, teams who made big steps into the playoffs last year, some Original Six teams, some of the league’s newer teams—all of them hungry, none of them caring about the yapping of some people who think it won’t be a legitimate win.

That's because it certainly will be, no matter what.

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Los Angeles Kings

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Kings kept much of their lineup intact after their 2012 Stanley Cup victory, including ensuring that Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick (above) would be able to mind the net for them for the next decade. That was a good idea, but can it pay dividends for them?

Last season, they had trouble just trying to score goals and crept into the playoffs as a number eight seed. This season, it will be really important for them to score and win games, preferably in regulation, so they can secure a playoff berth and try to go for the repeat—which hasn’t been done since 1998.

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Boston Bruins

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Much like the Kings after their championship, the Boston Bruins also held most of their team intact, although their Conn Smythe-winning goalie decided months ago that he was not going to play for 2012-13. They had a great regular season in 2011-12, although there was a noticeable slump right out of the gate and then a dismal February, so they will also need to tighten up and never lose sight of the prize. With Nathan Horton, who was sidelined with a concussion for about half of last season, ready to go again, the Bruins look ready to try to do what they did in 1970 and 1972: go a year between two Cup wins.

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Chicago Blackhawks

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The 2010 Stanley Cup champs’ run in the 2012 playoffs ended with a whimper of a 4-0 loss in the quarterfinals. Like Boston, they may have deflated after losing Marian Hossa to a concussion, but he’s sporting a clean bill of health now. The team still needs to strengthen some of the issues in their core—goaltending and special teams among them (it has been far too long since their last power play goal and nearly two years since their last shutout win). If they do, then they can make a real run at their fifth championship, allowing a new mayor of Chicago to host a huge party downtown.

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Pittsburgh Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are almost always touted as potential Cup champions and there are good reasons to think that way, including the one-two punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. A healthy Crosby and a Malkin strengthened from playing time in the KHL should amp up the firepower in the CONSOL Energy Center. But Marc-Andre Fleury developed a lot of cracks in his armor during the 2012 playoffs. He’ll need to shore himself up to give his forward corps the confidence to excel and maybe prove the predictions right.

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St. Louis Blues

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When the Kings won the Cup, the St. Louis Blues earned a less-than-exciting distinction, becoming the last team founded in 1967 to not yet have any Cup championships at all. But the team took huge strides toward their first big banner last season. They won the Central Division for the first time since 2000, then won their first playoff series since 2002, but were swept out in the conference semifinals by the Kings. They could be looking for revenge. With Jennings Trophy winners Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak in net, Selke Trophy nominee David Backes as captain and Jack Adams winner Ken Hitchcock behind the net, look for sweet music from St. Louis this year.

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Florida Panthers

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Like the Blues, the Florida Panthers surprised pretty much everyone last season when they dominated the Southeast Division and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1996, when the big election season of the time involved a guy named Bill Clinton instead of one named Barack Obama. Unlike ’96, the Panthers couldn’t get past the quarterfinals, but after cleaning house, bringing in a boatload of new players and installing Kevin Dineen behind the bench, those were pretty good first-season dividends paid. Look for the men of Sunrise, Fla. to have another surprising season.

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Washington Capitals

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Speaking of teams without their first Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals—they’ve been around since the mid-1970s, but haven’t touched that glory yet. They had a big playoff run last season, brought in a new head coach who once played in the nation’s capital himself (Hall of Famer Adam Oates) and sent the sometimes-problematic Alexander Semin to Raleigh. The team has often struggled with their young goaltenders and Alexander Ovechkin isn’t what he used to be, but perhaps Oates can get his team into shape and make a run for it. However, they seem to be perennial predictions for championships and haven’t gotten there yet.

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New York Rangers

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Last year, Blueshirts faithful felt like it was 1994 all over again. The New York Rangers topped the Eastern Conference, won the Atlantic Division and took the New Jersey Devils all the way to the conference final. But then they fell just short and 1994.2 failed to materialize.

Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist, who recently played a Guns ‘n Roses song on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" by way of advertising the season’s return, is still in net, plus the team now has a big chance to see what Rick Nash can do in NYC. Maybe the second coming of 1994 will be 19 years, instead of 18 years, later.

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Nashville Predators

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To look at the Nashville Predators’ postseason accomplishments is to look at a row of goose eggs: no Stanley Cups, no Western Conference championships, no Central Division championships and no Presidents’ Trophies. But there’s still a chance for them to make it. They went far in the playoffs last season, will have the services of two-time Vezina nominee Pekka Rinne for seven years to come, managed to keep captain Shea Weber from being lured out of Music City and Mike Fisher will be eager to stop holding his wife’s purse all the time. The Preds will be 15 this year—what better time than the present?

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Philadelphia Flyers

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Speaking of Weber, it was the Philadelphia Flyers who tried to get him last summer. The Flyers, who surprised many hockey minds by sending the Penguins home early in the playoffs before winning just one game in a semifinal series—and whose last Stanley Cups were won during the Ford administration—could be primed to go all the way this time. Danny Briere and Claude Giroux got some quality playing time together in Germany, which can really help their teammates. Goaltending seems to be a constant issue on Broad Street, though. Can Ilya Bryzgalov and Michael Leighton silence the doubters? That will be imperative if the Flyers want to go for a victory.

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