Chicago Blackhawks: Five Teams to Fear in The Eastern Conference
The Blackhawks defense will have their hands full versus the big guns in the East
Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone, and even though there’s zero chance I’ll be getting out of my underwear while I write this, I figure it wouldn't hurt to go ahead and get out of my hockey comfort zone.
This year the NHL’s Eastern Conference is like the Land beyond the Wall for most Chicago Blackhawks fans. Due to the strike shortened season, each franchise's schedule was adjusted so that they would play only teams within their conference. Thus the Hawks have put together an unbelievable regular season and have no barometer for what kind of hockey is being played out on the east coast.
As of this afternoon, Chicago is tops in the league with 62 points, yet besides the Anaheim Ducks (whom the Hawks are painfully familiar with), the remaining three teams in the NHL's top five are in the east. The Blackhawks are in firm control of their destiny in the Western Conference after a sweeping the Nashville Predators over the weekend, but as the playoffs come closer it's safe to assume the team has some scouts out of conference and so I figured a look out east might not hurt.
Or perhaps it might.
There are ten games to go in the regular season and so this seems like an excellent time to catch Stanley Cup fever: here's a look at five teams in the Eastern conference that could very well end up in the final against the Hawks if they do manage to escape the west.
Henrik Lundqvist will be the key to the NY Rangers' playoffs hopes
5. The New York Rangers
The Rangers are currently the 7th seed and are a long shot to end up in the final; however I’m putting them at #5 because their team has many of the same attributes of last year’s champions. the Los Angeles Kings. New York’s stingy defense (3rd in goals allowed) and strong forecheck keep them in every game. If playboy goalie Henrik Lundqvist catches fire the way the Kings’ Jonathan Quick did last season, we could easily see another seven or eight seed playing in June.
Nazem Kadri leads an explosive offense that could shoot its way into the Finals
4. The Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs are tied for 4th in the NHL with 121 goals and are hungry for their first trip to the playoffs in nine years. They’ve won five of six and seem to be gelling at just the right time so if Dion Phaneuf and the rest of the Toronto defense can give goalie James Reimer (15-5-0, 2.52) some breathing room, this could be a team that shoots its way into the finals.
The Habs are finally back in the hunt for Lord Stanley
3. The Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens have a staggering 24 Stanley Cups and are to hockey what the New York Yankees are to baseball—translation: everybody hates them. They haven’t had a whiff of the Cup since they won it in 1992-93, however it appears the swagger has returned. If Michael Ryder and P.K. Subban can keep this offense flowing, their fourth ranked defense should give them a good shot to bring Lord Stanley north of the border for the first time in 20 years.
Boston's top ranked defense could put them back in the Finals for the second time in three years
2. The Boston Bruins
The Bruins find themselves at number two on my list only because they’re 11-9 in one goal games. Their 81 goals allowed make them the only team better than the Hawks in this category (83) and yet their inability to hang on in the tight ones—specifically against arch rival Montreal—makes me wonder if they can grab their second cup in three years. They have the best home record in the conference at 14-2-2 and goalie Tuukka Rask is 17-6-2 with a 1.95 GAA—fear him.
The Penguins are tops in the east despite Sidney Crosby's injury
1. The Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens are flat out loaded. They traded for Jarome Iginla at the deadline to add another savvy veteran to a team already chock full of them (they have 13 players over 30). Superstar Sidney Crosby is out at the moment with a busted jaw, however surprising production from Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal has made his absence much less painful. They’re the only team in the league that might potentially outscore the Hawks, and if they meet in the Final, let’s hope the ghost of their 1992 Stanley Cup winning sweep versus Chicago has been laid to rest.
So pick your poison. Personally I’m hoping for a Pens/Hawks final so we can get some revenge. I was 13 years old when Mario Lemieux and Co. ruined my summer so I don’t feel like I’m a bad guy for hoping we get a chance to test that jaw guard they’re gonna put on Crosby.
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