NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: 1 Reason Each Team Can Win the Cup
The Stanley Cup playoffs are a new season for 16 lucky teams.
It's not quite on the same level as March Madness, but upsets are frequent within in the new NHL. On any given night, any team can beat another and regular season stiffs can be crowned playoff heroes.
With a fresh start, here's a look at one reason why every team has a chance to hoist Lord Stanley in 2012:
Ottawa Senators: Jason Spezza Doesn't Disappear
Which Jason Spezza will show up this year for the Ottawa Senators?
He was great in the regular season, but Spezza's determination and two-way game has always been under scrutiny when it matters.
If the Sens are going to make a surprise run at the Cup, they'll need Spezza to not only match his regular season production but increase it. The Rangers are going to be handful, but if Spezza can out-play Brad Richards, the Sens have a shot.
Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick Becomes a Playoff Star
The most underrated goalie, and maybe player, in the NHL has the potential to take over games.
Goaltending wins Cups, and the Kings have championship goaltending.
If the Kings can finally find their scoring touch they have a chance to surprise not only the Vancouver Canucks but the entire Western Conference.
Washington Capitals: They Play Like They Can
The Capitals are one of the most frustrating teams of 2012.
It's just that they should be so much better than they have played.
That being said, the Capitals still have an immense pool of talent—a veteran goalie in Tomas Vokoun, if he can stay healthy, and the skill to emerge as the best team in the Eastern Conference.
A lineup featuring Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green is always dangerous.
San Jose Sharks: Their Stars Step Up
The Sharks seem to be on their last life in terms of contending for a Stanley Cup.
For the better part of the decade, the Sharks have been a frequent favorite to come out of the Western Conference. However, their big players, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle have consistently disappeared in the postseason.
In order to be successful, the Sharks need to have game-breaking playoff performances from players not named "Pavelski"
New Jersey Devils: They Channel Their Championship Teams
The Devils, as a franchise, have been dominant through systematic defensive play.
In 2011-2012, New Jersey has emerged as a sleeper team, flying under the radar despite having the best penalty kill in the NHL.
If Martin Brodeur can re-discover his playoff magic, and the Devils play a smart defensive game, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk can provide the scoring to take them a long way.
Chicago Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews Stays Healthy
Jonathan Toews is a winner.
He's won on every level and has emerged as the most reliable captain in the NHL.
If he can stay healthy and play a regular shift for the Blackhawks, he may be the difference-maker in their lineup. He would do wonders to improve the Blackhawks fourth-worst penalty kill while providing balanced scoring to the dangerous Hawks lineup.
Consistent goaltending would help too.
Philadelphia Flyers: They Beat Pittsburgh
Let's be honest.
Pittsburgh is the consensus pick, along with Vancouver, to win the Cup, but the Flyers can inspire their young team and their fan base by beating their favored rivals.
Momentum is a deadly thing, and Philadelphia would have plenty of it should they knock off the Penguins.
Detroit Red Wings: Veteran Savvy Shines Through
The Red Wings are the old guard of the Western Conference.
They still have the talent, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Niklas Lidstrom all have had solid years, but they will need to utilize their experience to outplay their younger opponents.
If the Red Wings execute their puck-possession style, they out-match every team in the West.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Maintain a Powerful 3-Line Attack
The Penguins have a terrifying lineup for any opponent.
With three centers named Crosby, Malkin and Staal, the Penguins' greatest strength is their depth up front. If the Pens can get consistent effort from each of their top three lines, any team who plays them will have a difficult time winning.
Even if Pittsburgh gets average goaltending, they'll make a solid run as long as they keep scoring.
Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne Steals a Series
The Predators are a popular dark horse to come out of the West for good reason.
They have balanced scoring, a strong blue line anchored by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and play an effective defensive system.
On top of all that, they have a world class goaltender in Pekka Rinne. However, to beat teams like Vancouver, St. Louis or Detroit, they'll need Rinne to stand on his head at times.
Florida Panthers: Jose Theodore Is Unbeatable
Noticing a theme yet?
Goaltending is easily the most essential position in the NHL playoffs, and for a team like the Panthers who lack the scoring to compete with teams like Pittsburgh, New York or New Jersey for that matter, they'll need Jose Theodore to be lights-out.
Theodore and the Panthers have a chance to surprise a lot of people, but without solid goaltending, they'll have trouble getting out of the first round.
Phoenix Coyotes: Key Players Emerge as Playoff Performers
The Coyotes, after getting back into the playoffs two years ago, have won only three games in those two years.
While they did play the Red Wings in both series, the Coyotes have seemed to lack that killer instinct in the postseason. In order to get past the first round in 2012, they'll need their core players like Shane Doan, Keith Yandle and Radim Vrbata to raise their games.
For the underdog (no pun intended) Coyotes, they need to raise their intensity and competing level when it matters.
Boston Bruins: They Are Air-Tight Defensively
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 by being the best defensive team in the NHL.
Sure, it helped having the Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas between the pipes, but the Bruins' team defence was spectacular.
They lack a game-breaking scorer (although Tyler Seguin may move into that role) relying rather on their toughness and defence to win games. If players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron repeat their efforts from a year ago, the Bruins will be the hardest team to play against two years in a row.
St. Louis Blues: Halak/Elliott Maintain Their Dominance
The Blues turnaround is one of the best stories of the year.
For a team that was supposed to be a bubble playoff team, winning their division makes their season a huge success in itself.
However, the Blues seem to want more. Their goaltending tandem has been incredible this season, and in order to play the style of game Ken Hitchcock has instituted, the Blues will have to rely on Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.
Who will start is still up in the air, although Halak seems like the popular choice.
New York Rangers: Young Defence Doesn't Crack
Some may argue that the production of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik is the Rangers biggest question mark.
However, the Rangers defence is composed of Dan Girardi, 27, Marc Staal, 25, Stu Bickel, 25, Anton Stralman, 25, Ryan McDonagh, 22 and Michael Del Zotto, 21.
They are a very young group. Talented, yes, but young.
With Henrik Lundqvist behind them, the Rangers need only their inexperienced blue line to control their nerves in order to be successful.
Vancouver Canucks: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
The Canucks are the best team in the NHL when they want to be.
Unfortunately, there are several players on the roster who take games off from time to time.
Whether it's Roberto Luongo, Alex Burrows or the Sedins, there needs to be more consistency from the Canucks.
A perfect example was the 2011 Stanley Cup Final where Vancouver dominated three games and were embarrassed in the other four. Consistency will go a long way to settling the volatile fanbase and laying the foundation for another Cup run.