NHL Playoff Predictions: 4 Teams That Will Disappoint on Big Stage

Jacob Betzner@@JacobBetznerCorrespondent IIApril 6, 2012

NHL Playoff Predictions: 4 Teams That Will Disappoint on Big Stage

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    The regular season is nearly over and the quest for the Stanley Cup is almost upon hockey fans everywhere.

    The NHL's 16 best regular season performers earn a trip to the first-round of the NHL playoffs, where almost anything can happen.

    Analysts and fans predict winners weeks in advance based on regular season performance, skill level of the team's players, and various other factors.

    In a best-of-seven series, all the skill in the world matters not if a team isn't ready to battle in order to move on to the next round.

    The NHL playoffs usually include some form of upset, ending a team's season prematurely, and allowing the harder-working team, or team favored by the hockey gods, to advance.  Upsets are not uncommon in the NHL playoffs, especially in today's league with such a high level of parity.

    With great skill comes great expectations, but some highly-skilled teams simply cannot answer the call.

St. Louis Blues

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    St. Louis consistently frustrated teams this season with strong, shut-down defense and a seemingly unbeatable goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak.

    Despite scoring only 206 goals in 80 games so far this season, the Blues enter the playoffs as the Western Conference No. 2 seed, and still have a chance to overtake Vancouver for the No. 1 spot.

    Team captain David Backes leads the offense for St. Louis with only 24 goals.  David Perron is close behind with 20 despite playing in only 55 games this season.

    The Blues, like the Nashville Predators of last season, lack enough scoring depth to advance in the playoffs.

    Even thought the Blues' goaltending was phenomenal during the season, Elliot and Halak have a combined ten playoff wins between them, only one of which belongs to the former.

    The Blues are simply not ready to make a run at a championship.

    Veteran offseason acquisitions Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner have a combined 252 playoff games, but are very out of their prime and not able to carry the Blues through four rounds.

    Regular season performance has no bearing once the puck is dropped in Game 1 of Round 1, and the Blues memorable season may end sooner rather than later.

    If Elliott is able to replicate his efforts next season, the Blues will be a serious contender, but that remains to be seen.

New York Rangers

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    It's hard to go against the (likely) NHL regular season champions, but the Rangers have a few holes in their game that might be the difference between a championship and an early round exit.

    The Rangers are used to the big lights in New York, but the playoffs bring a whole new atmosphere.

    Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the best goaltender in the NHL right now, but he has never been able to lead the Rangers past the second round of the playoffs, despite backstopping some fairly skilled New York teams.

    Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan lead a powerful Ranger offense, but it's hard to say if any of the Rangers' younger or depth players will step up in the playoffs.

    Lastly, the Rangers defense is young and fairly inexperienced.  The leading scorer from the blue line, Michael Del Zotto, has never played in the postseason, and Dan Girardi, an All-Star selection this year, has three assists in 32 career playoff games.  Former All-Star hasn't been much of a factor after returning in January from a concussion.  The promising young group of defenders may not be quite ready to lead the Rangers to a Stanley Cup.

    It seems like it's all or nothing for the Rangers this year.  Stanley Cup or bust.

    Unless Brad Richards, a former Conn Smythe winner, and head coach John Tortorella, who coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to a championship in 2004, are able to carry the team, a first-round upset, especially to a very skilled Washington Capitals team with a bit of a chip on their shoulders, isn't impossible.

Los Angeles Kings

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    "Maybe they need Hollywood in the playoffs."

    The NHL fined Edmonton Oilers' head coach Tom Renney for this postgame comment last week, referring to a controversial game between his Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings in which the Kings won.

    The sad thing is, the Kings have the talent where their presence in the playoffs shouldn't even be questioned.  Despite a definite playoff spot and a probable division championship, the Kings greatly underachieved this season.

    Kings fans should be eternally grateful to 26-year-old goaltender Jon Quick for playing as well as he has this season.  His name hasn't been tossed around Vezina nominations too much, but it should.

    Kings' forwards Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, Simon Gagne, Dustin Penner and Jeff Carter have not lived up to expectations this season, and "offensive" defenseman Drew Doughty has been another huge disappointment, especially after boycotting the start of the season over a contract dispute.

    The Kings need to score goals.  If they can't get it going for the playoffs, a first-round loss to the high-scoring Blackhawks is not improbable.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Q: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury...what's stopping the Penguins from a second Stanley Cup in four seasons?

    A: The Philadelphia Flyers.

    The Penguins have beat the Flyers once in five tries this season, with the sixth battle, and it will be a battle, scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

    These teams flat out hate each other, and there are countless stories intertwining the two organizations, (read: Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot) adding fuel to the fire.

    A game last Sunday almost led to two coaches coming to blows.  Coaches!

    Call the Penguins cry-baby's, whiners, etc.  Regardless, they are one of the most skilled teams in hockey.  However, whenever the black and gold plays the black and orange, all that skill is negated by retaliatory, senseless fighting and penalties.  The Flyers know how to play against the Penguins; they know how to beat the Penguins.

    In a seven-game interstate series, either team could win, but the Flyers proved they can get under the Pittsburgh's skin, forcing them to lose focus on the task at hand, winning.  The Flyers could very easily end the highly-skilled Penguins' season a lot earlier than anticipated if they can continue to rattle Pittsburgh into playing their game.