NHL Playoffs 2012: Power Ranking the Remaining Contenders
The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was very exciting and full of upsets. In the first round, favorites like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks and the Chicago Blackhawks were all eliminated.
There were multiple high seed upsets as the No.8 Los Angeles Kings and No.7 Washington Capitals played the role of spoiler and moved on to the next round. There was tons of overtime hockey and exciting action. Now, the field has been cut in half and only eight teams remain in the hunt.
With the Semifinal contests ready, lets take a look at the top remaining contenders. Each contender will be ranked based on their chance to win the Stanley Cup, their overall seed and other factors like scoring and goaltending.
This list also factored in head to head meetings in the event a team will meet in a conference final, second round matchup etc. Some teams are higher for that reason.
No. 8 New Jersey Devils
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The New Jersey Devils advanced after defeating the Florida Panthers in a first round matchup. The Devils received multiple contributions from grinders like Steve Bernier, rookie Adam Henrique, and stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Moving forward, if the Devils want to have a chance against the Philadelphia Flyers, Ilya Kovalchuk will need to step up.
Kovalchuk is one of the most explosive scorers of the last decade in the regular season.. He is currently one of the rare players who averages a point per game and he is New Jersey's top player.
Kovalchuk is a deadly sharpshooter and can come through in the clutch, but he will need to elevate his game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
During the regular season, the Devils and Flyers split their season series so anything can happen during the Semifinal round.
Marty Brodeur is a clutch goaltender in the postseason. if he stands on his head, the Devils have a shot at beating the Flyers.
No. 7 Washington Capitals
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The Washington Capitals knocked off the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the first round in a thrilling seven game series that featured a lot of overtime action. A primary reason the Capitals won was Braden Holtby.
Holtby is a netminder who is playing very solid hockey and will give the Capitals tons of chances. However, in order for the Capitals to be successful, they need their stars —mainly Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin— to play and produce. Dale Hunter was very enigmatic with distributing ice time to his players in the first round.
At times, Hunter relied on grinders like Jason Chimera and Mike Knuble. At others, he counted on Nicklas Backstrom's line. Sometimes it was a combination of both.
In the second round the Capitals will face the New York Rangers. The Capitals have played the Rangers well in the past but this season the Rangers outplayed the Capitals. The two will be facing each other in roles reversed.
In a goaltenders matchup, Henrik Lundqvist edges Holtby so the then series becomes about who can score the deciding goal.
The Capitals have the players, they have the goaltending, and they have the defense. However, in a tight second round matchup, the Capitals may finally be defeated by their postseason nemesis.
Overall the Capitals are good but are not a favorite.
No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes
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During the regular season, the Coyotes flew under the radar. When it was determined that they would be squaring off with the Chicago Blackhawks, it was assumed that the 'Hawks would quickly defeat them.
Enter Mike Smith. Smith definitely deserves some serious recognition for backstopping the Coyotes to a division title. If you don't think so, just take a look at Smith's impressive stat line from this year: 38-18-10, 2.21 GAA and eight shutouts.
For the weeks leading up to and including the playoffs, Smith has been white hot.
On the offensive side of things, the Coyotes have some veteran players with some pop left in their stick. Rat Whitney has played like an ageless wonder, Shane Doan is reveling in playoff success and younger players like Mikkel Bøedker and Radim Vrbata give the Coyotes their fangs.
Keith Yandle is also an offensive threat on the powerplay and on the blue line which only enhances the Coyotes ability to generate offense.
The Coyotes are a very good team and they are very underrated. If the Coyotes can ride the hot hand of Smith and can receive contributions from their "old desert dogs", the Coyotes have the potential to make a sizable run.
No. 5 Los Angeles Kings
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The Los Angeles Kings are definitely a top contender because of their goaltending. Jonathan Quick has played sensational with a record of 4-1-0, a shutout, and a 1.59 GAA.
Quick had a great regular season with a record of 35-21-13, a 1.95 GAA and 10 shutouts. He is a main reason why the Los Angeles Kings made the playoffs. His dominance and stability in the crease is a huge plus.
When you factor in players like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the Kings have the necessary offensive pieces to score. Even if the Kings find themselves in a low scoring series, having Quick to keep them in the game only benefits their chances.
Whenever you dethrone the two time defending President's Trophy winner, your team must be doing something right. The Kings are riding high with Jonathan Quick in net, if they get lucky there is a good chance they could make the Cup Final.
No. 4 St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues are a very interesting team.They had an amazing year on the heels of solid goaltending and a defense-first mindset led by a combination of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak with Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo on the blue line. Their goaltending and defense benefited them against a high octane San Jose Sharks team in the first round.
The Blues' top offensive producers include players like David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Andy McDonald, Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron and Kevin Shattenkirk.
The Blues strength is defense and goaltending and that will need to prevail if they want to be a Cup contender. They will square off against the Los Angeles Kings in the second round.
In order to advance, the Blues will need to neutralize Los Angeles and Brian Elliot will need to stand tall. It is a good possibility and the Blues could easily find themselves advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
No. 3 Philadelphia Flyers
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The Philadelphia Flyers are the best offensive juggernaut remaining. They are led by superstar and future face of the NHL, Claude Giroux. Giroux tore the Pittsburgh Penguins to shreds in the first round and was an absolute menace scoring 14 points in six games.
Giroux's ice vision, puck handling, and booming shot make him a threat whenever he steps on the ice. He is also a player who will get physical along the boards if necessary.
In addition, the Flyers have proven playoff veterans in Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr and Kimmo Timmonen, just to name a few. These players give the Flyers experience and depth that is valuable in the playoffs. The Flyers also have grit in players like Wayne Simmonds, who will score garbage goals up in front of the net and will claw pucks out of the corners.
The most impressive part of the Flyers is their contributions from young players. Sean Courturier, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn all had an impact in the first round. These young players bring speed and offense and versatility.
The Flyers only knock is their goaltending. Yes, Ilya Bryzgalov bounced back as the series progressed as the Flyers were able to capitalize on a shaky Marc Andre Fleury. However, if the Flyers run into a team who has elite goaltending, they could run into some problems. It was their offense that helped compensate for Bryzgalov's early short comings.
In a series against the Rangers or a Cup Final against the Kings or Blues, the Flyers would not generate as much offense as they did against the Penguins
If Bryzgalov can continue to play like he did in Game 6 of the first round, the Flyers will be in good shape as they continue throughout the playoffs. Overall the Flyers are a legitimate contender .
No. 2 Nashville Predators
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The Nashville Predators are the clear favorite out of the Western Conference. They have an elite goaltender in net with Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on the blueline, and they have offensive producers in Gabriel Bourque, Alex Radulov, Martin Erat, Craig Smith and David Legwand.
The Predators discarded the Detroit Red Wings with relative ease in the first round. They have the tools and depth to go all the way. At the deadline, David Poile made the necessary moves and additions to gear up for a lengthy run.
Players like Paul Gaustad added depth, faceoff proficiency and grit needed to fight out loose pucks in the corners. A returning Alex Radulov completely changed the look of Nashville's offense and gave them a versatile forward. It is little moves like these that show that the Preds are serious.
With goaltending in the playoffs crucial to a team's success, it is not surprise that the top team in the West has one of the league's top goaltenders.
Pekka Rinne is a Vezina finalist and led the league with 43 wins so there is no doubt in anyone's mind that he has the ability to steal a series.
No.1 New York Rangers
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The New York Rangers are the clear favorite out of the Eastern Conference with the elimination of the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are also the highest remaining seed in the entire NHL.
They had the second best record in the NHL and are an overall solid team. It doesn't matter that their first round series went seven games with the No.8 seed because for a period of time this year, the Senators held the No.2 spot.
Like the Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa fell down in the standings because of a few blips in the schedule.
The team is led in net by Henrik Lundqvist who kept the team in contention in key elimination games.
Lundqvist will be the difference-maker in any series the Rangers appear in. He is now in the zone and withstood an offensive onslaught from the Ottawa Senators in the first round. He is arguably the best goalie in the world and that gives him and the Rangers a huge edge.
The Rangers have completely bought into the team mentality of taking everything one shift at a time. That philosophy was emphasized in the end of their first round series. Players like Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan made their impact in the dirty areas along the boards and also contributed offensively.
Stars like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik will need to step up, but ultimately they are proven pros.
The Rangers won 51 games this year by playing consistent hockey so it is conceivable that in seven games against the Capitals, the Rangers can win four of them. The Rangers are now starting to find their groove with their line combinations and their rookies acclimating to playoff hockey. The Rangers are easily one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Having Lundqvist, top shut-down defenders in Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, and a top scoring line, the Rangers will move on in the playoffs.