The 2013 NHL regular season has entered the final stretch, as every team has less than 15 games remaining. In that time, we'll see the postseason take shape as not a single team has clinched a playoff berth just yet.
The question is, which underachievers are in prime position for a postseason run?
Due to the condensed schedule of a lockout shortened season, teams have struggled to build momentum. Title favorites have struggled and the impact of injuries has been maximized.
Fortunately, postseason seeding is not necessarily a deciding factor in today's NHL.
During the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, three of the four teams to advance into the Eastern Conference Semifinals were lower seeds (No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7).
In the Western Conference, the No. 8 Los Angeles Kings upset the No. 1 Vancouver Canucks, and L.A. went on to win the Stanley Cup.
With this in mind, it's important to note that where a team finishes in the regular season will have a minimal impact on where they end up in the postseason.
Instead, we must evaluate which teams are properly built for a playoff run. That includes teams that have fallen off of the radar and squads that have not yet made it into the playoff standings.
Regardless of whom it may be, the following squads are in position to make a run deep in the postseason.
New York Rangers
W-L Record: 17-15-3, 37 points
Home Record: 11-6-2
Road Record: 6-9-1
Key Statistic: 2.4 Goals Allowed Per Game (6th)
The New York Rangers are an elite defensive team with one of the greatest goaltenders in the world in net. They also have dominant offensive personnel, but have underachieved in terms of goal scoring.
New York ranks 30th in goals per game and 25th in power-play percentage.
Marion Gaborik scored 41 goals in 2011-12, but has only netted nine in 35 games thus far in 2012-13. Rick Nash has 30 points in 31 games despite the lack of support from his teammates.
Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan, on the other hand, are notorious for coming up with goals when it matters most.
According to Dave Pollak of The San Jose Mercury News, the Rangers recently acquired right wing Ryan Clowe to improve their offense. Clowe has 45 points in 68 postseason games and should help improve whichever line he's placed on.
New York is a dangerous team, regardless of whom they draw. Possessing an elite goaltender like Henrik Lundqvist is a major reason why.
St. Louis Blues
W-L Record: 18-14-2, 38 points
Home Record: 8-7-1
Road Record: 10-7-1
Key Statistic: 22.2% Power Play Percentage (6th)
Entering the 2012-13 NHL regular season, one of the trendy picks to experience postseason success was the St. Louis Blues. With a blend of explosive youth and quality veteran play, many projected this team to be the young guns on the rise.
So far, no good.
The Blues have been unable to string wins together on a consistent basis, thus leading to their seeding of eighth out West. With that being said, St. Louis has the perfect storm to take down any caliber opponent.
They rank ninth in scoring, sixth in power-play percentage and ninth in penalty kill percentage. As soon as their goaltending improves, the Blues will be a lethal team.
Furthermore, St. Louis is 10-7-1 on the road in 2012-13. That's the third-best road record in the Western Conference.
The only issue is this: the top two road records belong to the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks. You know, the teams who St. Louis is most likely to draw at this rate.
Even still, the Blues have the talent and performance factors necessary to make a deep run.
Toronto Maple Leafs
W-L Record: 20-12-4, 44 points
Home Record: 10-6-2
Road Record: 10-6-2
Key Statistic: 85.7% Penalty Kill Percentage (4th)
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team that hasn't quite performed at the level expected of them. They started at 4-5 and, as of Mar. 16, rested at a mediocre 15-12-2.
Since then, Toronto has won five of seven and recorded a point in every one of those outings.
No matter how hot they may be, the key to Toronto's potential postseason success is not hinging upon momentum. Instead, the Maple Leafs are in prime position for a deep run because of another factor.
Thus far, Toronto is 10-6-2 at home and 10-6-2 on the road. Their ability to win at any location is exactly what makes the Maple Leafs such a dangerous team.
Should they enter the postseason as a lower seed, the Maple Leafs should have no issues winning on the road.
Furthermore, the Maple Leafs are fourth in the NHL in both scoring offense and penalty-kill percentage. In other words, they can dominate the opposition by piling up the goals or limiting an opponent's scoring.
Regardless of how it lines up, Toronto has the team makeup to defeat any opponent.
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