NHL Playoff Predictions 2013: Underdogs Poised to Make a Deep Stanley Cup Run
Opening night of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs came and went on Tuesday, and all we had were three heated matchups that should set the tone for the entirety of the postseason.
That's playoff hockey for you.
Wednesday night will mark the second of what's promising to be an epic conclusion to the 2012-13 NHL season, complete with the potential for first-round upsets and another No. 8 seed to climb through the ranks and surprise us all for the second-straight season.
Although the playoffs have already begun and three teams have already taken a 1-0 series lead, there's still plenty of time to look at a few clubs who could be dark-horse candidates to be this year's Los Angeles Kings.
Take a look below to find out which teams have the best chance to make that magical run toward the Stanley Cup trophy.
2013 Stanley Cup Playoff Layout
*For a complete look at the 2013 Stanley Cup playoff bracket, click here (via NHL.com).
No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 8 Minnesota Wild (CHI lead 1-0)
No. 2 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 7 Detroit Red Wings (ANA lead 1-0)
No. 3 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 6 San Jose Sharks
No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Kings (STL lead 1-0)
No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 8 New York Islanders
No. 2 Montreal Canadiens vs. No. 7 Ottawa Senators
No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Toronto Maple Leafs
Underdog Teams That Can Make a Deep Push
No. 7 Detroit Red Wings
Regardless of the result of Detroit's Game 1 matchup with the Anaheim Ducks, it was a team to watch heading into this postseason.
The Red Wings finished the year hot, and are the only Stanley Cup playoff team to enter the playoffs with a four-game winning streak. With veterans like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg once again leading the way on and off the ice, Detroit has the kind of momentum and experience you need to win in the playoffs.
It also is in the midst of a 22-year playoff streak.
The Wings have also been outstanding in net all season, with the combination of Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson only allowing 2.29 goals per game—good for fifth in the league during this shortened season.
By the same token, Detroit only allows 27.5 shots per game, a number that allows puts it in the top 10 in that category among the other 30 NHL teams.
Defense, momentum and staying healthy could net the Red Wings another chance to get back to the promised land. With the Western Conference largely consisting of the Chicago Blackhawks and everyone else lumped together underneath the No. 1 seed, the Red Wings are a team peaking at the right time with the kind of coaching and management you would expect from a champion.
Anaheim has proven to have offense in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf all season, but the Ducks are a perfect candidate to go down early because of a lacking effort in the puck possession department.
Combine that with Detroit's suffocating defense, and the Ducks could get back to their disappointing ways that became all too familiar at the end of the season, going 5-9-1 over a 15-game span in which eight of those games were Anaheim scoring one goal or less (h/t NHL.com).
No. 7 Ottawa Senators
The Senators enter the postseason on a hot streak of sorts, winning games against the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins to sandwich around a loss to equally hot Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers aren't in the playoffs, but Ottawa and those two teams are, and the Senators will open up their Stanley Cup chances on Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens in a series that many expect the seven-seed to come out the victor.
After a 4-2 victory over Boston gave the Senators the right to the No. 7 seed, the buzz about a potential upset over the Canadiens has been the major storyline at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Longtime hockey buff Stan Fischler likes the Senators—in a possible sweep, no less:
The Canadiens also struggled down the stretch, losing six of their last 10 games, and that could play a huge factor into the emotion of this series after the Senators managed to pull off the late upset of the Bruins to grab this matchup in the first place.
In Sports Illustrated's preview of the NHL playoffs, Allan Muir also likes the Senators as a potential sleeper team. Here's what he had to say:
The return of offensive defenseman Erik Karlsson changes everything for a team that had to battle for every goal in his absence. He'll play nearly 30 minutes a night, most of which will be spent outside of Ottawa's zone thanks to his transitional skills, giving the Sens a completely different look than they showed while struggling down the stretch. Add in the advantage that Craig Anderson gives them in net and Ottawa could make some noise this spring.
With Karlsson, Milan Michalek and goaltender Craig Anderson all returning from injury in time for the playoffs, the Senators are peaking at the right time and have the talent on defense to withstand an opponent enough to win big games.
The only pitfall to the Senators will be their later-round opponents—the first of which would be the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2, unless the New York Islanders pull off the upset of the Penguins.
No. 5 Los Angeles Kings/No. 4 St. Louis Blues
The Kings and Blues played a thriller on Tuesday night, and you got the feeling watching the game that either one of these two teams has the chops to contend with a top seed in the West and move on to a later round.
It's an assertion felt well before these two teams opened up play on Tuesday.
The defending champions continue to impress us as an improving, young franchise, and are in the favorable position of being a five-seed this year instead of one that is facing the highest seed possible every time it moves on.
Behind Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown, the Kings also have a better offense than a year ago when the title was just a dream at this point, and a strong surge at the end of the regular season won't hurt L.A.'s chance to get out of the first round and back into familiar territory.
An 8-0 record against the Kings (before Tuesday night's loss, of course) won't hurt either.
Which sleeper team will make the deepest run this year?
St. Louis might be the underdog in this matchup from the sense of championship experience, but it sure didn't play like it on Tuesday, holding the Kings to just one goal and forcing overtime at home before Alexander Steen nailed a beautiful shorthanded goal to give the Blues a 1-0 series lead.
It was the first St. Louis win in a game against Los Angeles in over a year.
The Blues are another dark horse team in these playoffs because of their ability to play defense (24.2 shots allowed per game), kill the penalty (84.7 penalty kill percentage) and play team-first hockey on the offensive end.
Coincidentally, the Kings are among the league leaders in those categories too, with a better offense to boot. This series is one that could really go either way, with the winner picking up a huge boost after a tough series and a shot to take on a higher seed in the next round.
Follow Ethan Grant on Twitter: Follow @DowntownEG
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