NHL Playoff Preview: The Eight Most Dangerous Playoff Teams

Mark RitterSenior Writer IApril 4, 2011

NHL Playoff Preview: The Eight Most Dangerous Playoff Teams

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    With only a few more games to be played before the NHL starts its playoffs, there are a few teams that are emerging as definitive favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

    Goaltending is often key to teams' playoffs success. That said, the Chicago Blackhawks took home Lord Stanley’s Cup last year—even with inconsistent goaltending from Antti Niemi.

    Power-play and penalty-kill success also comes into play, as does a team's ability to gel at the right time.

    With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the NHL’s eight most dangerous playoff teams of 2010-11.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Key stats:

    Current record: 46-22-10 (102 points), second in Eastern Conference
    GF: 245
    GA: 207
    Diff: +38
    PP: 16.4% (20th overall)
    PK: 83.8% (ninth overall)

    Key players:

    Mike Richards (F)
    Jeff Carter (F)
    Chris Pronger (D)
    Sergei Bobrovsky (G)

    The Philadelphia Flyers clawed their way to last year's Stanley Cup Final. The Flyers lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, but there was no shame in any of their losses.

    Many experts picked the Flyers to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. But with good goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher, the Flyers have surprised many by occupying the top ranking in the Eastern Conference for most of the season.

    Mike Richards (21 goals, 63 points)  and Jeff Carter (36 goals, 65 points) will be relied upon to do the majority of the scoring in the playoffs, but the Flyers do have a lot of depth in that department with the likes of Claude Giroux and Danny Briere stepping up with 25 and 32 goals on the season, respectively.

    In fact, the Flyers currently boast seven players with 20 or more goals, including Richards, Giroux, Carter, Briere, Scott Hartnell (21), Kris Versteeg (20) and James van Riemsdyk (20), while Ville Leino is just one goal away with 19 goals through 77 games.

    It is Philadelphia’s balanced attack and experience on the backend that will separate them from the pack—that and their goaltending, which just might be shaky.

    Chris Pronger (currently injured) is expected to lead the orange-and-black on the blue line, with Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Andrej Meszaros also expected to chip in, especially offensively.

    The Flyers have a well-rounded group, which includes a trio of top penalty killers and shutdown men in Blair Betts, Darroll Powe and the aforementioned Mike Richards—all of whom can shut the NHL’s best forwards down, especially in a seven-game series.

    The Flyers are a confident, experienced and skilled group, more than capable of being one of the NHL’s most dangerous playoff teams.

Vancouver Canucks

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    Key stats:

    Current record: 52-18-9 (113 points), first In Western Conference
    GF: 254
    GA: 181
    Diff: +73
    PP: 24.4% (first overall)
    PK: 83.8% (second overall)

    Key players:

    Henrik Sedin (F)
    Daniel Sedin (F)
    Ryan Kesler (F)
    Christian Ehrhoff (D)
    Roberto Luongo (G)

    There is no denying that the Vancouver Canucks have had a ton of regular season success, as they look to be destined to end up as this years President’s Trophy winner.

    History tells us that winning the Presidents Trophy is often a curse, but with so much depth, incredible special teams and Roberto Luongo looking like the dominant goalie we all thought he could be, there is every indication that this Canucks team can go all the way.

    The regular season and the playoffs are very different animals—just ask the San Jose Sharks. The Canucks have had their fair of struggles in the playoffs, including two straight losses to the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Unlike years past, the Canucks look to have one of the deepest rosters in recent memory, including the Sedin Twins—who are currently first and thid in the scoring race, with Daniel leading the way with 100 points and Henrik just one point behind Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis with 92 points.

    Opposing teams better have great defense and an even better goaltender because when the Canucks get a lead, they are almost unbeatable this season.

    The Canucks own a .912 winning percentage when winning after one period and an even more daunting .925 winning percentage when winning after two periods. Bottom line, don’t get scored on!

    From my point of view, special teams and goaltending wins playoff games, so if Roberto Luongo can stay focused, it appears as if there will be some very happy fans in Vancouver this spring.

Washington Capitals

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Key stats:

    Current record: 46-22-11 (103 points), first in the Eastern Conference
    GF: 216
    GA: 192
    Diff: +24
    PP: 16.9% (17th overall)
    PK: 85.9% (third overall)

    Key players:

    Alexander Ovechkin(F)
    Nicklas Backstrom (F)
    Dennis Wideman (D)
    Michal Neuvirth (G)

    The Washington Capitals will be looking for a measure of revenge from their early playoff exit last season, when they lost a disappointing seven-game series to the Montreal Canadiens.

    In an effort to avoid another early exit, the Capitals have made an effort to play a much more defensive-minded game this season, with the long-term goal being to have the ability to play a more well-rounded, playoff-friendly style.

    Alex Ovechkin has seen his offensive totals dip this season, but he will still finish with more than 30 goals and 85-point range.

    Don’t be fooled by Ovechkin’s apparent power outage. Ovi still has 11 game winners and he’s plus 22 through 76 games.

    Ovechkin, along with Nicklas Backstrom (63 points), Alexander Semin (28 goals) and Mike Knuble (23 goals), should be this teams backbone offensively come playoff time, with the likes of Brooks Laich (16 goals, 45 points) and Marcus Johnson chipping in.

    Jason Arnott, a 6’5”, 220 pound forward, has helped this team gel since he arrived via trade. His veteran leadership and playoff experience should be very valuable for a team that has struggled to make an impact at the dance thus far.

    Between the pipes, the Capitals will likely go with Michal Neuvirth, but given the way both Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby have played, any one of this trio could be relied upon to take them to the Stanley Cup Finals.

San Jose Sharks

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Key stats:

    Current record: 46-23-9 (101 points), second in Western Conference
    GF: 234
    GA: 201
    Diff: +33
    PP: 23.7% (20th overall)
    PK: 80.1% (ninth overall)

    Key players:

    Patrick Marleau (F)
    Joe Thornton (F)
    Dan Boyle (D)
    Antti Niemi (G)

    I know, I know—the words playoffs and dangerous do not often find themselves in the same sentence as the San Jose Sharks.

    The Sharks lack of success is well documented, but there are a few experts out there that expect this club to do big things once the playoffs roll around.

    Quietly, and without much fanfare, the Sharks haver amassed a total of 101 points, which currently has them ranked second in the Western Conference.

    With just 19 goals and 66 points through 76 games played, Jumbo Joe Thornton is having what can only be termed a struggling season.

    Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Dany Heatley and Ryan Clowe have helped pick up the scoring, as has Patrick Marleau—who leads the team in goals scored with 37.

    Overall the Sharks offense ranks sixth, with significant contributions coming form the backend. Marleau and Heatley lead the team with 11 power-play markers each, while Marleau also leads the team in game winners with nine.

    Between the pipes the Sharks employ last year's Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, Antti Niemi, who, despite his critics, has had a very good season, going 33-17-6, while posting a 2.40 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and six shutouts along the way.

    The star power has always been in San Jose in the past. Now it appears as if this group has finally grasped the team concept and looks more dangerous than ever before.

    With few people expecting the Sharks to go all the way, perhaps this will be the year they will make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Boston Bruins

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    Key stats:

    Current record: 44-23-11 (99 points), third in the Eastern Conference
    GF: 235
    GA: 184
    Diff: +51
    PP: 16.5% (20th overall)
    PK: 82.4% (16th overall)

    Key players:

    Milan Lucic (F)
    David Krejci
    Patrice Beregron (F)
    Zdeno Chara (D)
    Tim Thomas (G)

    The Boston Bruins ice one of the NHL’s more balanced attacks, preferring to rely on many instead of one or two superstars. Known as an offensively-challenged team last season, the Bruins now own the NHL”s fifth-ranked offense, to go along with their second-ranked defense.

    Gritty, tough and unrelenting, the Bruins are bringing back memories of the ‘big bad Bruins’ of the 1970s.

    Milan Lucic leads the team in goals scored with 30 on the season, while David Krejci leads the team in assists with 48.

    Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand and veteran forward Mark Recchi help round out a top six that looks to have what it takes to win its fair share of seven-game series.

    On the back end, Zdeno Chara continues to excel—hitting opponents, cashing in on the power play and physically dominating like few others before him.

    Tomas Kaberle was brought in to help solidify the power play, but it’s still nowhere near where it needs to be. If Kaberle manages to get hot during the playoffs the Bruins could see their power play catapult them to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Between the pipes, the Bruins employ Tim Thomas, who is having an Vezina Trophy season. Through 54 games, Thomas has amassed a 33-10-9 record to go along with a sparkling 1.98 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and nine shutouts.

    The Bruins will try to intimidate, out-muscle and out-work every single one of their opponents en route to their first Stanley Cup victory since 1971-72, but they will have to stay out of the penalty box to do it.

    If this Bruins squad has a weakness it is on special teams, where they struggle on both sides of the puck.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Key stats:

    Current record: 45-23-10 (100 points), third in Western Conference
    GF: 251
    GA: 229
    Diff: +22
    PP: 22.5% (fifth overall)
    PK: 82.2% (17th overall)

    Key players:

    Pavol Datsyuk (F)
    Henrik Zetterberg (F)
    Nik Lidstrom (D)
    Jimmy Howard (G)

    Those that follow the Detroit Red Wings know that this team is capable of finding another gear once playoff time rolls around.

    Blessed with an offensive attack that includes Henrik Zetterberg (24 goals, 78 points), Pavel Datsyuk (22 goals, 57 points), Johan Franzen (27 goals, 53 points) and Danny Cleary (25 goals, 44 points), the Red Wings boast one of the NHL’s more experienced top-six forwards.

    The defense features Nik Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall—all of which are having tremendous seasons. In the case of Nik Lidstrom, he could be having another Norris Trophy-winning season.

    Between the pipes, the Red Wings rely on Jimmy Howard to bring home the wins and, with a 35-15-5 record, .908 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against average, he’s delivering more times than not.

    People say Detroit is not the team it once was, yet here we are watching the Red Wings put together another 100-point season. Most NHL teams would kill for a 100-point season. For Detroit, it’s expected.

    This is the top-ranked offensive team in the league—they may not win a lot of 2-1 games, but they can turn their offense on at any time, turning that 2-1 game into a 4-1 win in no time.

    The reality is, there are far too many winners on this team to not be taken seriously. Look for the Red Wings to surprise a few people this playoff season and perhaps make it all the way to the Finals.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Key stats:

    Current record: 46-25-8 (100 points), fourth in the Eastern Conference
    GF: 225
    GA: 192
    Diff: +33
    PP: 15.3% (25th overall)
    PK: 86.5% (first overall)

    Key players:

    Sidney Crosby (F) * Injured
    Evgeni Malkin (F) * Injured
    James Neal (F)
    Jordan Staal (F)
    Kris Letang (D)
    Marc-Andre Fleury(G)

    With both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out with significant injuries, the Penguins have been forced to play a more refined game with an emphasis on defense and tight checking.

    Thus far, the Penguins have been very successful, hardly missing a beat since Crosby went down in January, remaining one of the NHL's better teams despite their shortcomings.

    Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz and the newly-acquired Alex Kovalev and James Neal will be asked to continue to step up their games in the absence of Crosby and Malkin—neither of whom are expected back for the playoffs.

    On the backend the Penguins have been as solid as they come, earning the seventh ranked defense in the league and the top-ranked penalty kill to boot.

    Anyone else surprised to learn that the Penguins have the top ranked penalty kill? I know I was!

    On the other side of the coin, the Penguins continue to struggle on the power play—an area that, to the surprise of many, has never really been a strong point for the Pens.

    Much like other teams that have suffered key injuries, the Penguins have tightened the ship, which will likely serve them well in the playoffs.

    With a little help from his friends on the backend (mainly Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek) Marc-Andre Fleury has quietly put together one of the best seasons of his career.

    Through 63 games Fluery owns a 34-20-5 record, to go along with his .918 save percentage and 2.32 GAA.

    If the Penguins can catch a few breaks along the way a third trip in four years to the Stanley Cup Finals could be in the making—this is still a deep team, with a ton of veteran presence, that seemingly has no quit in it.

    I would like the Pens chance a whole lot more if Crosby was back, that said, the Penguins have been getting it done without him, so anything is possible, right?


Los Angeles Kings

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    Key stats:

    Current record: 45-27-6 (96 points), fourth in Western Conference
    GF: 213
    GA: 185
    Diff: +28
    PP: 16.7% (19th overall)
    PK: 85.8% (fourth overall)

    Key players:

    Anze Kopitar (F) *Injured
    Dustin Williams (F)
    Dustin Brown (F)
    Jack Johnson(D)
    Drew Doughty (D)
    Jonathan Quick (G)

    With Anze Kopitar expected to miss significant time in the playoffs, the likes of Dustin Williams, Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll, Ryan Smyth and the newly acquired Dustin Penner will have to step up their games if they are going to make a run towards the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Like many teams we have discussed today, the Kings have the ability to overcome the loss of Kopitar, especially when you consider just how much offense comes from their defense.

    Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty lead the Kings on the back end with 41 and 39 points, respectively.

    Doughty has had what many are calling an off-year, but given last year's playoff performance (three goals, four assists in seven games), there is every reason to believe he will have another big playoff.

    A lot of the experts picked the Kings to be one of the NHL’s best this season. The team slumped at the midway point, but has found another gear since the All-star break and, despite the loss of Kopitar, seems to be rounding into form for the playoffs.

    Goaltender Jonathan Quick has been excellent this season, posting a 34-19-3 record to go along with his .920 save percentage and 2.18 goals-against average.

    Quick has had his fair share of doubters over the years—a great playoff run might just put them to rest forever.

    Competing in the Western Conference, the Kings will have a tough time winning one playoff round, never mind making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Look for the Kings to put it all on the line, take some risks and give whichever team they face in the first round (perhaps the Phoenix Coyotes or Nashville Predators) all they can handle.

The Final Words:

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Every NHL team yearns to win a Stanley Cup—quite possibly the toughest trophy in sports to win.

    Last years Stanley Cup winners, the Chicago Blackhawks, could easily make this list, but history tells us that repeat champions are all but a thing of the past.

    The Hawks have a tremendous roster, deep on both the blueline and up front. That said, I just cannot see them repeating, so for that reason, I left them off my top eight.

    They could prove me wrong (God knows that's happened before), but I got a hunch they may bow out to the Vancouver Canucks (a team that will be salivating at another chance at the Blackhawks) in the first round.

    What's your top eight list look like?

    ****This article was geatured on NHL.com!


    Capitals

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    Until next time,

    Peace!