Crystal balls tend to be hazy at this point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but a few teams are coming into focus as true title contenders in the early going.
Before those three teams are revealed, a discussion of parity is necessary in order to understand the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just under a week into the postseason, so-called “weaker” teams are proving that seeding has very little reflection on talent or the ability to win playoff games.
That’s most apparent in the eight-one pairing of the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks, the latter of which is on the precipice of going home after winning the President’s Trophy in the regular season.
Other series, such as Ottawa vs. New York, Florida vs. New Jersey and Chicago vs. Phoenix, are tightly contested, and if you were not told the seeds beforehand you would be hard-pressed to judge the actual favorite.
By and large, the depth and breadth of talented, Cup contending teams is at an all-time high for the NHL, and great for fans in multiple cities.
With that in mind, there do remain a small fraction of teams with the best chance at Stanley Cup title, and for two of them it would be the first championship in franchise history.
St. Louis Blues:
In a carryover of their successful regular season formula, the St. Louis Blues are relying on tremendous goaltending and timely scoring to win games. Blues goalies are surrendering two goals-per-game through the first three games of their series with San Jose and the team was not shaken when starter Jaroslav Halak was forced out of Game 2 with an injury. Brian Elliott spelled Halak successfully to tie the series and went on to backstop the team in Game 3 to take a 2-1 overall lead. If the Blues plan on scoring three or even four goals a night, a date with destiny might just be in store for the Gateway City.
Los Angeles Kings:
It's a similar story in Hollywood as it is in St. Louis, but with a complete role reversal. The Kings entered the playoffs as an eight seeding, facing the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks, who have a lot of playoff experience as a team. The only way the Kings were going to challenge the Canucks is if Jonathan Quick emerged as the team's best player. That he has done, and more. Three games in and Quick has only given up four goals, including a 1-0 shutout at home to give his team a 3-0 death grip over the Canucks. And, with the highly touted Kings forwards playing up to potential, this is beginning to look like the team everyone predicted to finish in the top four of the Western Conference before the season started.
By hook or by crook, the Flyers have absolutely embarrassed a proud, and heavily favored, Pittsburgh Penguins team in the first three games of the Keystone series. Philadelphia has outscored Pittsburgh 20-12 in the first three games, posting snowmen (that's an eight for non-golfers) in the past two contests. Not to mention, the Flyers have inflicted great physical harm and bullied a sheepish Penguins team to this point. It is a series with a bitter rival, so the Flyers may be playing above their heads, but this brand of hockey certainly makes Philadelphia the odds-on favorite to emerge from the Eastern Conference and vie for the Stanley Cup.
Ryan O'Leary is a writer and researcher for Bleacher Report's Video Production Department with seven years of experience in sports media.