With only 48 games being played in this lockout-shortened season, the NHL standings look a bit unfamiliar with some surprising teams leading divisions and some elites lurking on the cusp of playoff position. This has put some teams with the right weapons in an underdog role, ready to make a run at the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have taught us in recent years not to look too far into teams' seedings. This is more obvious than ever this season, one year removed from the No. 8-seed Los Angeles Kings lifting the Cup after a scorching playoff performance.
Let's take a look at some under-the-radar teams that have the right pieces necessary for a deep playoff run.
New York Islanders
After years of mediocre hockey, the New York Islanders have established a franchise player and some fantastic pieces with which to surround him.
John Tavares has had himself a dark-horse Hart Trophy season, with 27 goals and 19 assists on the season with a couple of games remaining. His goals mark is currently third in the NHL just one year removed from a breakout year.
A huge reason for Tavares' success has been the plethora of assists his teammates are throwing out. Five players—Matt Moulson, Brad Boyes, Frans Nielsen, Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo—have amassed 20 assists.
It's a complete team effort that has willed the Islanders into a playoff spot, and the same effect will have them prepared to turn heads in this playoff season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
I'm trying to be careful in not jumping the gun on this one since the Blue Jackets have yet to clinch a playoff spot, but look out if they end up making the 16-team cut coming up this weekend.
Columbus' heart and soul this season has been newly acquired goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The Russian has been magnificent this season, going 19-11-6 and giving up just two goals per game on a team that was the NHL's undisputed worst team last season.
On top of their fiery goalie, the Blue Jackets now also have an elusive offensive playmaker in Marian Gaborik who can put the puck in the net with the best of them. He has seven points in his first 10 games as a Blue Jacket and looks to be ready.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues haven't torn through the regular-season slate like they did in 2011-12, but they've turned things around to inch back into playoff position down the stretch. They'll use that same momentum to push forward through the playoffs.
St. Louis is led by its three-pronged goaltending attack of Brian Elliott, Jaroslav Halak and Jake Allen. Despite injury problems at the position this season, they're going to have at least two healthy goalies ready for this playoff run.
Also, a balanced scoring attack will propel them to solid offensive output. Eleven players have scored at least 18 points this season, so you know they have a large number of studs who can contribute offensively.
It hasn't been the dominating regular season that so many Wild fans expected when they signed Ryan Suter and Zach Parise before the lockout, but Minnesota sits firmly in playoff position and is saving its best for a Stanley Cup run.
Just like Columbus, Minnesota hasn't locked down its playoff spot, but it looks increasingly likely that it'll do so in the last few days of the season. And as it looks ahead, there's a lot to be excited about.
Parise, Suter and Mikko Koivu each have notched 30-plus points on the season, which isn't exactly a surprise. But it shows the right players have stepped up for the Wild, which is what teams need when they enter a grueling seven-game series.
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