The battle for the Stanley Cup hardly ever goes as planned. In many cases, teams with mediocre seasons turn it on in the playoffs and put together a team run.
Last season, the Los Angeles Kings sneaked into the postseason as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference before dominating every team it faced en route to a title.
After a shortened season, these playoffs are certain to be even crazier as lower-seeded teams look to replicate the Kings' success.
There is still a lot left to be decided in the final few weeks of the season, but here are the biggest sleepers heading into the NHL playoffs.
In the NHL, a talented goaltender can lead a team deep into the postseason. When Craig Anderson is healthy, he can be that leader.
The veteran goalie missed a good portion of the year with an ankle injury, but he is first in the league with a 1.52 goals against average. If he remains healthy, he can be a force for the Senators in the playoffs.
Ottawa has the second-best defense in the NHL thanks to the efforts of Anderson as well as Robin Lehner in net. If Kyle Turris and Daniel Alfredsson can be more aggressive on the offensive end, this will be a tough team to beat.
New York Islanders
With John Tavares on the ice, anything is possible. The 22-year-old star is tied for third in the league with 24 goals scored and also has 18 assists on the year.
His skill has made the Islanders one of the hottest teams in the league. Over the past 11 games, New York has eight wins and only one loss in regulation. Making the playoffs is still not guaranteed, but the squad should feel much more comfortable at this point of the year.
The Islanders do not have a lot of postseason experience, but they can use this momentum to keep winning in the playoffs.
In addition, the veteran leadership of goalie Evgeni Nabokov should help this young team advance.
St. Louis Blues
Although St. Louis has not been one of the top teams throughout the season, the team is slowly getting better toward the end of the year.
The addition of Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline has helped solidify the defense, but there is still some inconsistency in net. Fortunately, the team is about to get a huge boost at goalie.
Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Jaroslav Halak is close to returning from his groin injury and spent the last two days on the ice. He should be back in time for the playoffs.
St. Louis is one of the most unselfish teams in the NHL with nine different players totaling at least 10 assists. A healthy Halak will be all this squad needs to compete with the top seeds in the Western Conference.
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