Which Conference Provides a Tougher Path to the Stanley Cup Finals?
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The Eastern and Western Conferences have alternated Stanley Cup championships over the past four seasons.
The Los Angeles Kings won the first title in their history last season, while the Boston Bruins won their first title in 39 years in 2010-11.
The Chicago Blackhawks ended a massive 49-year dry spell when they won the Stanley Cup over the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009-10, while the Pittsburgh Penguins got revenge over the Detroit Red Wings in 2008-09.
That back-and-forth aspect to Stanley Cup domination could give a casual observer the idea that the two conferences are relatively even.
However, that conclusion would not be correct. Especially in 2013.
The Western Conference is deeper and more dangerous than the Eastern Conference, and it seems those teams have the advantage by a wide margin.
A quick look at the standings shows there are only two teams in the Western Conference that are out of the playoff race. The Calgary Flames and the Colorado Avalanche are not going to be playing postseason hockey this year. While the Flames are starting the rebuilding process and they are a poor team at this point, the Avs have some significant young talent and can beat any opponent on a given night.
The Avs were the team that ended Chicago's 24-game streak of not losing a game in regulation time.
The Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota Wild and the Kings all have a strong chance to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings may be just a step below. However, those teams are being challenged by the Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators, who are all within five points of eighth-place Detroit.
If any of those teams were to find their way into the playoffs, none of them would be an easy out.
The Eastern Conference is a different story. The Pittsburgh Penguins are holding down the top spot, and they may be the best team in the league when Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) returns to the lineup. The Montreal Canadiens have been the biggest surprise in the league, and they are a team that possesses excellent offensive skill and is almost always positioned well on the defensive end.
The Washington Capitals are surging and have taken the lead in the Southeast Division. While Alex Ovechkin is on a tremendous hot streak (15 goals in past 12 games) and the Capitals are competitive, they were a last-place team early in the season.
The Boston Bruins may be the best-balanced team in the Eastern Conference, but the Bruins often struggle to score goals, and a concussion suffered by Patrice Bergeron weakens this team significantly.
After those four teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs appear to have an excellent chance to earn a postseason spot for the first time since 2003-04. Ottawa has overcome a slew of injuries to stars like Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek. The New York Rangers have fallen far short of expectations, while the New York Islanders have overachieved.
It would be a major surprise if any of the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference had a sizable playoff run.
Of the teams on the outside, the only one that seems capable of making a run right now is the Winnipeg Jets. They could jump ahead of Washington if the Caps slow down.
It seems like the Penguins, Canadiens and Bruins are the only Eastern teams capable of making long runs. It would seemingly be a stretch for the Bruins if they don't have Bergeron back in the lineup.
So there's little doubt the balance of power is heavily in the Western Conference's favor.
In past years, it seemed much closer, even if the Western Conference had a slight edge.
But this year it's a runaway.
Go west if you want to see the best teams in the league play postseason hockey.
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