The Top Five NHL Underdogs to Fear Come Playoff Time
It is rare in the NHL playoffs that we get to see the top seeds from the Western and Eastern Conference square off in the finals. In fact, the last time it happened was in the 2000-01 season, when the Colorado Avalanche defeated the New Jersey Devils in a classic seven-game series to hoist the Cup.
There always seems to be a sleeper Cinderella club that comes out of nowhere to wreak havoc among the top teams, even though they are considered favored by many critics to struggle or lose come May and June.
They are the underdogs.
With the playoffs drawing near, I thought it would be a good time to look at some teams that may just sneak in and cause some headaches to the superior clubs like San Jose and Washington come spring.
The band Spoon's song "The Underdog" may just say it the best, "You got no regard for the thing that you don't understand, you got no fear of the underdog, that's why you will not survive!" Something that for the Sharks and Caps to make a run, they will have to abide by.
With that being said here is my list of the top five underdog clubs heading down the the stretch, that if they make it in, will do some damage.
5. Montreal Canadiens
The Habs have been finding ways to stay in the hunt all season long, despite having to face the adversity of injuries to star players like Andrei Markov and Mike Cammalleri, Bob Gainey stepping down as GM, and inconsistency between the pipes.
Now, however, the Canadiens are getting healthy and have a supporting cast that seems to be playing above and beyond their abilities, which is something you need to make a long run come May and June. That coupled with the fact Carey Price has found his game again, means Montreal could turn some heads come playoff time.
The fact is if the Canadiens can continue to score by comity, they have quite possibly the most dangerous goaltending tandem in Price and Jaroslav Halak in the entire NHL. Something that if they meet the high-powered offense of the Washington Capitals in the first round will be needed.
Let's face it, if it comes down to goaltending, as it often does in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Price and Halak look better than Jose Theodore. There is a reason the Capitals went after Marty Turco at the deadline. It may come back to bite them in the ass that they couldn't land him.
4. Detroit Red Wings
It is hard to consider the Detroit Red Wings an underdog, but that is exactly what they are this season as, like the Canadiens, they have been plagued with injuries.
Now, however, the Wings are healthy and returning to the form that got them to the finals in the previous two years.
This season more than ever before though, the Red Wings have struggled in the nets and are relying heavily on the inexperienced Jimmy Howard to carry the workload down the stretch and most likely into the playoffs.
That is unless the 7-8-4 Chris Osgood can find his form again, which if you look at his track record come playoff time, isn't out of the question.
The Wings are 3-0-1 against San Jose this season and 2-2-1 against the 'Hawks. Finishing first or second in the West may not be the best path taken after all.
3. Philadelphia Flyers
Like most of the teams classified as underdogs, the Philadelphia Flyers will need to get solid goaltending for them to have a chance to go deep. Something that the 16-7-2 Michael Leighton has provided, but he is inexperienced when it comes to the postseason. Other than that, there is a lot to like in Philly despite their inconsistent play this season.
On a roster that is as deep as any in the NHL, the Flyers can beat you in more ways than one, which is always a good thing for a team trying to make a run come playoff time.
Many of the critics picked this team to be the favorite after the offseason acquisitions of Ray Emery and Chris Pronger, but as it stands now they are just grasping to sixth spot in the Eastern Conference.
That being said, if the Flyers get hot down the stretch, they will be very dangerous.
2. Phoenix Coyotes
The Phoenix Coyotes are making a serious push to finish higher than where they sit now, which is fourth in the Western Conference. The team has been good all season long and boast a 40-22-5 record, yet you rarely hear a peep about them when it comes time to say who is favored to come out of the West.
Along with being coached by the defensive minded Dave Tippett, the Coyotes have a goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov who can completely steal games. Phoenix also made some huge additions at the trade deadline in acquiring Wojtek Wolski, Lee Stempniak, and Derek Morris to give them an even more balanced attack.
This franchise has made the playoffs just five times in their 14 years since moving to Phoenix from Winnipeg and has never gotten out of the first round. This may be the year that statistic is put to rest.
1. Calgary Flames
After their Cinderella run in 2003-04, the Calgary Flames have been favored by the critics in each of the past four seasons, but probably shouldn't have. For the simple fact that this team seems to be at its best as the underdog, having no hopes or expectations.
Over the past three games, we have seen a transformation that good things are finally happening again in Calgary, as they have been scoring goals and getting wins, including one over Detroit that put them into the eighth and final spot in the West on Tuesday night.
If this team realizes that it is deeper than they have been in years, and finally buys into Brent Sutter's system, there is a good possibility they could go very deep.
Especially when you factor in Miikka Kiprusoff, who has looked as good as he has in years, and can steal a series when he gets in the zone.
With the acquisition of Vesa Toskala, he should get some much needed rest going in as well.
That's if they can secure a playoff spot before hand.