The NHL playoffs tend to be wide open on a yearly basis, but that is especially true this season as the lockout-shortened, 48-game slate has left plenty of unanswered questions. It's clear that the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins are the cream of the crop, but there are threats littered throughout the field.
It is generally easy to tell which teams are contenders and which are pretenders following an 82-game season, although the Los Angeles Kings proved that wasn't necessarily true last year when they won the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed.
With that said, some lower-seeded teams could just be hitting their stride now and are very dangerous to the top seeds.
Here are three lower seeds that will knock off potential Stanley Cup contenders.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers may be the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, but there is no doubt that the talent on their roster suggests that they should be seeded higher.
The Rangers struggled for much of the season. However, they found their stride late in the year after the trade deadline. They sent underachieving forward Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets and acquired power forward Ryane Clowe from the San Jose Sharks.
Those changes allowed the Blueshirts to go from fringe playoff team to No. 6 seed in the matter of a couple weeks.
New York will take on another team that got off to a slow start this season in the Washington Capitals. The Caps couldn't get anything going early, but hit their stride and ultimately won the weak Southeast Division behind the goal scoring of Alexander Ovechkin.
The Caps finished just one point ahead of the Rangers during the regular season, so it is essentially an even matchup that could go either way.
The Rangers knocked off the Capitals in a grueling seven-game series last season and this one could go the distance as well. The big difference will likely be goaltending. New York is led by reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist, while the Caps will rely on youngster Braden Holtby.
Although Holtby had a solid year and held up well in last year's playoffs, he doesn't measure up to King Henrik.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings may have dropped their playoff opener to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night, but they still have the mettle necessary to upset the Western Conference's No. 2 seed as a No. 7 seed.
The Red Wings are in unfamiliar territory, as they are generally among the top seeds. They had to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs this season and barely managed to make it in for the 22nd consecutive season. You have to be in it to win it and the Red Wings definitely have the pieces necessary to do some damage.
The duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg may be Detroit's biggest advantage, as they are the team's best offensive and defensive combination. In addition to that, Datsyuk and Zetterberg are among the best in the league when it comes to possessing the puck.
Add in other big-bodied forwards like Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula, and it's easy to see why no team in the Western Conference wanted to draw Detroit in the first round.
Anaheim was able to beat the Wings 3-1 in Game 1, but the series is far from over.
Detroit's stability between the pipes will serve it well moving forward, as goaltender Jimmy Howard played great down the stretch and gives the Red Wings a chance to steal games. The Ducks are going with Jonas Hiller, who had a strong season in his own right, but with Viktor Fasth breathing down his neck, things could get dicey at the first sign of trouble.
It would have been very easy for the Ottawa Senators to curl up into the fetal position and give up on the season when stars like forward Jason Spezza, defenseman Erik Karlsson and goaltender Craig Anderson were lost to significant injuries, but they persevered and managed to secure the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Their prize is a meeting with the Northeast Division rival Montreal Canadiens and there is no question that the Sens are a very real threat to knock off the Habs.
During the regular season, The Senators and Canadiens split four meetings and three of them were one-goal affairs. The Senators play close, low-scoring games in general due to the fantastic play of Anderson, who has since returned to action.
Karlsson also came back much sooner than expected after suffering an Achilles injury early in the season. Karlsson is the Sens' greatest offensive threat and he adds a totally different dimension to their attack.
The Habs are no joke, as they managed to beat out a formidable Boston Bruins team for the No. 2 seed, but it's fair to say that they have overachieved to some degree. The Senators are overachievers as well, but they likely have a bigger chip on their shoulder.
Ottawa has played incredible team hockey all season long and that will continue with a first-round upset of Montreal.
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