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5 NHL Teams That Will Ride Hot Starts to Playoff Success

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2013

5 NHL Teams That Will Ride Hot Starts to Playoff Success

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    Much has been made of how important a hot start is for teams in a 48-game season.

    That's quite obvious. With a limited number of games, you are going to hurt your chances of having a good regular season and perhaps of even making the playoffs if you get off to a slow start.

    It's certainly not impossible. During the 1994-95 48-game regular season, the New Jersey Devils got out of the gate with an 0-3-1 record. They straightened themselves out and finished fifth in the regular season.

    They caught their stride in the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup.

    So you don't have to come roaring out of the gate. However, that's still the best way to go about your business in a shortened season—or a long one for that matter.

    Here's a look at five teams that will ride their hot starts to playoff success.

    (Note: Don't look for the New Jersey Devils this time around. Despite the expertise of Lou Lamoriello, we're not convinced that the Devils have enough talent to sustain a sharp start.)

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks have come roaring out of the gate as if they mean to claim another championship banner three years after winning their last Stanley Cup.

    General manager Stan Bowman did not do much with the roster in the offseason and while that strategy looked questionable, the Blackhawks seem to have offensive chemistry and solid talent.

    After opening the season with a win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, they have beaten the Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars.

    All but the win over the Blues came on the road. The Hawks have outscored their opponents 17-10 and Marian Hossa has bounced back from a season-ending concussion suffered in last year's postseason to put on an early-season show.

    Hossa has already scored five goals and has six points. Patrick Kane has also gotten off to an eye-catching start with two goals and five assists.

    As long as Corey Crawford doesn't go into a major funk in the net, head coach Joel Quenneville should have a team that will be tough to beat on a night-in, night-out basis.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning know that the 2011-12 season was a fluke.

    A year after getting to the Eastern Conference Finals, they did not even make the playoffs last year. General manager Steve Yzerman is determined not to let that happen again. If Yzerman thinks his team is missing anything vital, he has the OK from owner Jeff Vinik to go get it.

    That knowledge has created a top working atmosphere around the team. The players and head coach Guy Boucher know that ownership will not hamstring their development and the Lightning are playing like a team with something to prove.

    They have won three of their first four games and have scored 19 goals. Steven Stamkos has a team-high eight points, while the venerable Martin St. Louis is right behind with seven.

    The Lightning are a team on a mission this year and they will ride their hot start a long way.

Ottawa Senators

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    A season after rising from the worst team in the Eastern Conference to earning the No. 8 spot in the playoffs, the Ottawa Senators have continued to improve.

    Head coach Paul MacLean deserves a ton of credit for giving his players a much better working environment than previous head coach Cory Clouston, but the Senators have the talent to become a team that can climb the ladder in the Eastern Conference.

    Erik Karlsson may be the best defenseman in the NHL. He is almost certainly the best offensive defenseman in the league and he appears to have inherited that crown from the retired Nicklas Lidstrom.

    Veterans Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza know that the Senators have something special and they have roared out to a 3-1-0 start. Kyle Turris has contributed mightily to the start by scoring four goals and adding one assist.

    Don't expect any backsliding from this exciting and opportunistic team.

Boston Bruins

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    Like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins want to taste that championship champagne while drinking from the Stanley Cup once again.

    The Bruins accomplished that feat in 2011 and they have started the 2013 season like they have another long run within their grasp.

    The Bruins are 3-0-1, and they have not played their best hockey yet. The highly skilled Tyler Seguin has yet to score while Patrice Bergeron has netted just one goal. However, the Bruins may have another star in rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton (three assists) and captain Zdeno Chara remains an intimidating force.

    Questions concerning goalie Tuukka Rask still have to be answered, but so far all the indications are that he is ready to become a championship goaltender.

    Head coach Claude Julien will keep this team from getting too impressed with itself and general manager Peter Chiarelli will bring in spare parts as they are needed.

San Jose Sharks

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    The San Jose Sharks are supposed to be the team that slides down the Western Conference ladder.

    They have simply had too many missed opportunities and the so-called "window of opportunity" is closing.

    The Sharks are playing as if they have read all those assessments and want to shut their critics up. They have roared out of the gate with four straight victories and they don't appear to be ready to slow down.

    That includes winger Patrick Marleau, who has started the season with four straight multi-goal games.

    Marleau is the first player to score two or more goals in four straight games to open the season since Cy Denneny did it in 1917-18, according to NHL Network host Kathryn Tappen.

    Marleau has eight goals and three assists and veteran Joe Thornton has two goals and nine assists.

    While the Sharks will have to maintain their superior play for a long time if they want to finally reach the Stanley Cup Finals, they look motivated and prepared at the start of the season.

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