The 2009-10 NHL regular season has officialy ended and what a season it was. From the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Central Division for the first time in 17 years to the Phoenix Coyotes making the playoffs despite all the talk about them possibly moving out of Arizona.
After a long 82 game season that did take all 82 games for certain teams such as the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers we finally know who will be in the playoffs and the matchups for the first round. In the east the Capitals ran away withe Southeast Division and Eastern Conference piling up a whopping 121 points while the Flyers were able to squeak in by beating the New York Rangers in a shootout earlier today.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves sitting in fourth this year, the exact spot they held last year on their way to the Stanley Cup.
Meanwhile out west the San Jose Sharks clinched the top seed with the Chicago Blackhawks losing to the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings, Western Conference Champions ago have battled numerous injuries this year and find themselves in fifth place and a matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes looming.
The big surprise out west was the Colorado Avalanche. One of the youngest teams in the NHL the Avs got off to a fast start and were able to hold on down the stretch to make the postseason after being picked by many to finish dead last in the league.
As always during playoff time people will be looking to see who might be able to pull of a couple of upsets and make a surpise run. There was the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 who as the eight seed made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals only to be beaten by the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year as a six seed. So without further adieu lets take a look at the five teams that might be able to make a run and capture the Cup.
I'm sure a lot of people might be surprised to see the Bruins on this list but hear me out first. The Bruins will come in to the playoffs as a sixth seed, a year removed from finishing first atop the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins will face off against their divisional rival the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres won the Northeast Division this year. The Bruins come into the playoffs having one three games in a row and four of their last five.
The Bruins who are led by captain Zdeno Chara have struggled this year and not lived up to expectations. Injuries have certainly had a hand in their struggles as they will be without the services of Marc Savad and Dennis Seidenberg, two of Boston's key contributors.
Even with their injuries they have plenty of other players to fill in. Rookie goalie Tuukka Rask has won the starting job over reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas and leads the league in both saver percentage .931 and goals against average 1.97
Rask has carried the Bruins through most of the season who are dead last in the league in scoring. Rask may be a rookie but he has the ability to steal a series and has had a strong year agains Buffalo.
The Bruins also play a defense first mentality and gave up the second least amount of goals second only to the New Jersey Devils. If the Bruins can score two or three goals then the defense can finish the job and everyone knows defense is the most important thing to have in the playoffs.
The Bruins have gone 4-2 against the Sabres this year and while two of those games were played without Sabres goalie Ryan Miller the Sabres better not underestimate the Bruins who whill be looking for their first Stanley cup in 37 years.
I wasn't sure if I should put the Red Wings since I'm sure most people don't consider them underdogs but they are fifth in the West so technically they are underdogs.
The Red Wings come in with 102 points which if playing in the Eastern Conference would have put them in third place instead of fifth. The Wings played most of the year without some of their best players such as Johan Franzen due to injuries.
When the Wings finally did get healthy they went on a tear. It looked as though they might miss the playoffs entirely and then they went on a huge run including going 8-1-1 down the stretch to capture the fifth seed and a matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Red Wings have a lot going for them and have more then a few reasons to feel confident about making it to the Stanley Cup Finals for a third straight year. The Wings have some of the best experience in the game today. Veteran defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom will be a key reason as to why the Wings will be able to pull off a few upsets.
Jimmy Howard the Red Wings rookie goalie has been playing great as well. He will cetainly be a contender for the Calder Trophy and possibly even the Vezina. If the Wings are to go far look for Howard to have to play outstanding.
Who can't win with Mike Babcock as coach. Arguably one of the best coaches for the past five years Babcock has helped lead the Wings too two Stanley Cup appearances and four division titles.
Detroit will certainly be a team that everyone will fear come playoff time. Too bad for Phoenix they had to draw the Wings.
The Ottawa Senators come into the playoffs as the fifth seed a matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins awaiting them. The Senators have made the playoffs for the first time in two years. The last time they were in the were swept by those same Penguins.
The Senators for the most part have flown under the radar this year. Not expected to do a lot they were able to use that as motivation and challenged Buffalo for the Northeast division title for most of the year before finally fading right at the end. They did finish just six points behind the Sabres though.
The Senators are led by their captain Daniel Alfredsson. As a team the Senators have played togther for much of the past couple of years which makes them a dangerous team come playoff time. They have very good chemistry with each other which should help.
Ottawa will look to their young netminder Brian Elliot to help steal a couple of games. Elliot who is just 25 had 29 wins this year to go along with seven shutouts. Elliot has the capability to shut teams down and he will certainly be called upon to stop Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Senators have a tough matchup having to take on the defending Stanley Cup Champions but if they can get through them then they should be able to beat anybody.
The Los Angeles Kings have made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. After dwelling at the bottom of the barrell in the Pacific Divison for the past couple of years the Kings find themselves in sixth place and a matchup with the Vancouver Canucks awaiting them.
The Kings were able to finish the year with 101 points. The Kings are a very youthful team led by their captain Dustin Brown who is just 25 years old. With the emergene of Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick the Kings have become quite the force this year.
What will make them dangerous during the playoffs is their ability to win both home and away. Everyone knows you can't win just your home games and hope to take home the Cup unless of course you are the number one seed overall.
The Kings went 22-13-6 at home and 24-14-3 on the road. They have shown they can win on the road and that will become very important if they want to do something in the playoffs this year.
The one thing that might hurt the Kings in the playoffs is their lack of experience. The Kings have just seven players over the age of 30 on the roster and experience does help in the playoffs.
Even so the King shouldn't be taken lightly and anyone that does take them lightly will find out the hard way why they shouldn't have.
The Nashville Predators are back in the playoffs after missing them a year ago. The Predators who finished seventh in the Western Conference this year will face off against the Chicago Blackhawks winners of the Central Division.
The Predators are led by captain Jasn Arnott and defensemen Shea Weber. Much like the Kings the Predators are a very balanced team when it come to playing home games and on the road. The Predators were also even on goals scored and goals allowed.
Most people haven't been talking about the Predators this year but they did finish will 100 points which is a pretty darn good season for most teams in the NHL.
The Predators will rely heaving on goalie Pekka Rinne who has played great this year. Rinne who finished with 32 wins this year is tied for third in the league in shutouts with seven. He has been one of the big reasons why Nashville is where they are right now.
Nashville has a good mix of veterans and younger players which should help them in the playoffs. Where they will be hurt is on special teams. They rank 28 on the penalty kill and can ill afford to take too many penalties especially when having to go up against the likes of the Blackhakws, Sharks, and Red Wings.
There is nothing better than the Stanley Cup Playoffs and we will get to see why this Wedensday when the Playoffs kick off. The Penguins will be looking to repeat as champions while the Sharks will be looking to not go out in the first round again.
Will the Washington Capitals be able to make a run to the Cup. They have one of the leagues best offenses but will have to hope their defense can play well. The Chicago Blackhawks look to be a good pick out West but teams that have had Marian Hossa haven't fared very well in the Stanley Cup Finals the past couple of years.
No matter what happens it is sure to be another great postseason of hockey and I am looking forward to it as I am sure the rest of you are as well.