Ranking the Hardest Hitting Teams Left in the NHL Playoffs
The ability to be more physical than your opponent is one way to win in the NHL. If you can do it consistently, it is also often a recipe for playoff success.
Look at the last two Stanley Cup winners. Both the Los Angeles Kings and the Boston Bruins won their final series in large part because they were more physical than the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks.
This article ranks the remaining eight teams in the playoffs based on which team is the hardest hitting and most physical. Keep in mind that ranking a team eighth doesn't mean they are incapable of playing a tough, physical game. Few teams can advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs on finesse alone.
But the remaining teams are ranked here on the basis of their overall physicality and how important hitting and physicality is to their strategy and success.
Feel free to comment on why you feel a team should be higher or lower on this list, but please say why when you add your comments.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
Few doubt that the Pittsburgh Penguins are the most skilled team remaining in the playoffs, but they are not among the most physical.
While the Penguins do have some players who can play a physical game like Matt Cooke, Brooks Orpik and Tanner Glass, the team's m.o. is based more on how well the players pass and shoot the puck rather than how many bodies they bang.
Players like Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray added some grit to the Pens' lineup, but overall, Pittsburgh is still not a very physical team as compared to the other seven clubs left in the playoffs.
7. Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings can bang with the best of them when necessary, but Detroit's style of play revolves more around puck possession than physically overpowering opponents.
Detroit was able to defeat a bigger, more physical Anaheim Ducks team in the first round of the playoffs, and it was physical enough not to be pushed around by the Ducks.
Justin Abdelkader can bang with the best of them. Other Red Wings players who specialize in physical hockey include Jordin Tootoo, Jonathan Ericsson, Daniel Cleary and Drew Miller.
6. Ottawa Senators
Sure, Chris Neil is as tough as they come, but the Ottawa Senators are not among the most physical teams remaining in the playoffs.
In addition to Neil, who is one of the league's best agitators, Ottawa has Marc Methot, Zack Smith, Chris Phillips and Colin Greening who can all play a physical game, but there are other teams out there who can be more physical than the Senators.
Now that both Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza are back in the lineup, the Sens will likely play more of a finesse style than they had to while those two star players were injured.
Still, the Sens are capable of playing a physical game, and they showed it in Round 1 when they ousted the Canadiens.
5. San Jose Sharks
It's ironic that the San Jose Sharks are ranked fifth out of the eight teams on this list because their roster is full of players with a lot of size.
Players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns and Martin Havlat are all 6'2" tall or taller, but they are not primarily known for their physical play.
The Sharks did outmuscle and outhustle the Canucks in their first-round sweep.
Among the best bangers on the San Jose roster are Brad Stuart, Tommy Wingels, Raffi Torres, Adam Burish and James Sheppard.
4. New York Rangers
The New York Rangers needed to replace some of the grit they traded away in the Rick Nash deal last summer, so they traded Marian Gaborik to Columbus at the trade deadline and acquired some more physical players.
Under coach John Tortorella, the Rangers play a defense-first style that includes sacrificing the body to block shots. Critics say they sacrifice a lot of offense to play that way—although this defense-first hitting style, combined with the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, got the Rangers to the conference final a season ago.
Captain Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi and Arron Asham are among the more physical players on Broadway these days.
3. Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks are a lot like the New York Islanders teams of the early '80s. They can beat you any way you choose to play the game. If you want to play wide open, they have the skill to outscore you. If you want to play physical, they can outhit you and beat you that way as well.
The Blackhawks have a great mix of skill and size, which is one reason they had the league's best record during the regular season.
Chicago features bangers like Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Dan Carcillo, and Michal Rozsival.
2. Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins have plenty of size and aren't afraid to use it. Boston has a lot of skill as well. That combination is a big reason they won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and are serious contenders to do it again this spring.
The Bruins have the tallest player in NHL history in 6'9" Zdeno Chara. It doesn't hurt that the big Slovak native also has elite skills.
Boston doesn't have a lot of goons, but it has grinders who can also produce offensively like Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and Johnny Boychuk. Add Chara, Adam McQuaid, Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell, and you can see why many NHL players are sore the night after they face the Bruins.
1. Los Angles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings won their first Stanley Cup last season in part because their superior size wore opponents out over the course of a best-of-seven series.
The Kings' roster is filled with large players who can also skate and play hockey. Some examples of Kings players who are 6'2" or more include Dwight King, Anze Kopitar, Jake Muzzin, Jordan Nolan, Dustin Penner and Robyn Regehr.
Any team that faces the Kings knows they are in for a 60-minute (or more) battle in the corners, in front of the net and even in open ice.
Brown, Trevor Lewis, Colin Fraser, Penner and Jarret Stoll are among the more physical players in the Kings' lineup.
The Kings' reliance on size and physical play won them a Stanley Cup championship last season, and it has worked effectively so far this spring as well.