NHL Playoffs 2013: Teams Suited to Ruin Blackhawks-Penguins Stanley Cup Final
Newsflash: There are 14 other teams vying for the Stanley Cup.
That's not to say the hype surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins is unwarranted.
Who is more likely to lose before the finals?
The Blackhawks compiled a silly 77 points in 48 games, while the Pens weren't far behind at 72 despite losing superstar Sidney Crosby for the last month. They deserve to be the consensus favorites to meet for Lord Stanley's Cup.
But, still. We've learned that anything is possible (relevant) during the fast-paced NHL playoffs. Last year alone, we saw the No. 8 Los Angeles Kings steamroll everyone, the No. 6 New Jersey Devils make it to the finals, the No. 8 Ottawa Senators push the top-seed New York Rangers to the brink and a gaggle of other unexpected occurrences.
So, while the Blackhawks and Penguins have the look of two barreling, unstoppable freight trains on ice headed for each other, here are a few teams with the makeup to pull an upset.
East: No. 4 Boston Bruins
With the likes of Sidney Crosby (who is getting closer to a return), Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal and Kris Letang, there is very little question that the Penguins have the most dangerous attack in the NHL.
Their league-leading 3.44 goals per game backs up that notion.
As such, beating them will require a near-perfect defensive effort.
Not only are the Boston Bruins third in the NHL in goals allowed, but they have a red-hot goalkeeper in Tuukka Rask, who has three shutouts in the month of April and is second in the league with a save percentage of .929.
Also, this is decent (via Comcast Sportsnet's Joe Haggerty):
Tuukka Rask has a .950 save percentage during the month of April. I'll go on a limb & say he's ready for the playoffs #BruinsTalk— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) April 26, 2013
The Penguins took all three games from Boston this season, but Rask and the Bruins have the defensive ability to make the offensively minded squad uncomfortable in a long series.
West: No. 2 Anaheim Ducks
The Chicago Blackhawks had a historic year. They broke off a streak of 24 games without a regulation loss to start the season and never truly slowed down after that.
But if they were the Superman of the 2012-13 season, the Anaheim Ducks were their kryptonite.
The Ducks, who finished with the league's third-best record at 30-12-6, went 3-0-0 against Joel Quenneville's squad. The first win came via shootout, and the next two came by a combined score of 6-3.
If Anaheim can continue to get a solid combination of offense—seventh in the NHL in goals, fourth in power-play percentage—and defense, with goaltender Jonas Hiller having an encouragingly stellar April, it will continue to give the Blackhawks similar problems.
East: No. 3 Washington Capitals
If there's one team that can keep up with the Pens in a shootout, it's the Washington Capitals.
Alex Ovechkin has rebounded from a disappointing 2011-12 season to lead the NHL in goals, power-play goals and goals created. Mike Ribeiro is having his most productive season (1.02 points per game) since the 2007-08 season. Nicklas Backstrom has had a scorching April (1.38 points per game).
Together, the Caps are third in the NHL in goals and first in power-play percentage—which will come in handy against the Pens' 25th-ranked penalty kill (although Pittsburgh will hold a similar advantage the other way).
While the Penguins are 3-0-0 against Washington this season, Adam Oates' team is 8-1-1 in its last 10 and playing as well as anyone right now.
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