There's an old saying in sports that says "defense wins championships". No matter how many goals the offensive powerhouse scores, the team who plays solid defense will usually win out.
Team defense is extremely important in all sports, and that definitely includes hockey. Teams like the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens got to where they are at this point in the season due to good, old fashioned defense.
Here is a ranking of the defenses of the 16 playoff teams.
Defensemen: Victor Hedman, Brett Clark, Pavel Kubina, Eric Brewer, Mike Lundin, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Randy Jones
The Tampa Bay Lightning's defense is led by up and coming star Victor Hedman. Apart from him, nobody on their defensive squad is a standout player.
The Lightning finished 21st in the league in goals against, and none of their defensemen finished higher than plus five. Marc-Andre Bergeron was brought in near the end of the season to add a big point shot and some offense to the Tampa blue-line, but he is not known as a shutdown defender.
If Tampa Bay hopes to advance, they will have to go against the playoff mantra and win on their offensive game alone.
Defensemen: Lubomir Visnovsky, Cam Fowler, Toni Lydman, Francois Beauchemin, Luca Sbisa, Andreas Lilja, Sheldon Brookbank
Despite boasting both the highest scoring defenseman in the league, and the second highest scoring rookie defenseman in the league, the Ducks are far from a lockdown defense. They rank 14th out of the 16 playoff teams in goals against.
On one side of the spectrum, Toni Lydman finished second in the league with a +32, but Cam Fowler tallied a -25 on the other. Fortunately for the Ducks, when healthy, Jonas Hiller is among the best goaltenders in the game.
The Ducks, like the Lightning, will have to rely mostly on their offensive game.
Defensemen: Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski, Jonathan Ericsson, Brad Stuart, Ruslan Salei, Jakub Kindl
This is normally a group that would be near the top of the list, but the Red Wings' defense has actually looked human this season. Through it all, they are still led by Nicklas Lidstrom, who at age 40, finished with a minus rating for the first time in his legendary career.
Still a hard hitting bunch, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart pack a physical punch, but the Wings finished dead last among playoff teams in goals against. They still pack offensive ability on the other side of the game.
The Wings are capable of tightening up and have numerous strong two way forwards, so expect them to be competing possibly in June.
Defensemen: Keith Yandle, Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris, Ed Jovanovski, David Schlemko, Michal Rozsival, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Rostislav Klesla
Despite boasting surprise Norris Trophy candidate Keith Yandle, the rest of Phoenix's defense is not a lockdown group. The Coyotes traded for Rostislav Klesla at the trade deadline, and he has certainly helped to shore up their defense.
Unfortunately, they also traded for Michal Rozsival, who aside from his booming slapshot, is know as one of the worst defensive defensemen in the game.
Fortunately for the Coyotes, there are some battle tested veterans on the team, and also Ilya Bryzgalov in goal.
Defensemen: Tyler Myers, Steve Montador, Andrej Sekera, Jordan Leopold, Mike Weber, Chris Butler, Shaone Morrisonn
This group would likely be higher if not for last season's Calder Trophy winner experiencing the "sophomore slump". Fortunately for Sabres fans, Myers appears to have rebounded in the second half.
The Sabres' defense boasts some solid players, including Jordan Leopold, who has not played since March 25th. However, it appears that Leopold will return for the first round of the playoffs, and his return will be a huge boost for Buffalo.
The Sabres went on a tear to end the season, and are a definite upset possibility in the East.
Defensemen: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jassen Cullimore, Chris Campoli, Nick Leddy
Despite winning the Norris Trophy last season, it could definitely be argued that Duncan Keith was not the leader of Chicago's defense this season. Instead, Brent Seabrook came out of nowhere and added a new dimension to his game to lead the Hawks' defense in scoring.
Keith's scoring dropped by 25 points and he finished with a minus rating. Apart from Brian Campbell, who has been somewhat of a disappointment in Chicago, the Blackhawks' defense is fairly young. Chris Campoli was brought in at the trade deadline to add some stability as well.
The Hawks will find it difficult to get through the playoffs this season, unless their defense can tighten up.
Defensemen: Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Andrej Meszaros, Kimmo Timonen, Sean O'Donnell, Nick Boynton, Braydon Coburn
The Flyers' positioning on this list actually hinges on the man in the picture, Chris Pronger. Pronger has said that he will be able to go for the playoffs, but is now questionable for game one. Though he was not the same dominating presence that he was last season, he is still an extremely important member of the team,.
Matt Carle scored 40 points this season on one goal and 39 assists, but the team's best blueliner this season was Andrej Meszaros. He was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning in a questionable move, but has been rock solid for Philly, and can be counted on to chip in points.
The Flyers are a favorite to win the Stanley Cup this season if their defense can play to their full potential.
Defensemen: Dan Boyle, Jason Demers, Douglas Murray, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Ian White, Justin Braun, Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins
Well, it's that time of year again, the time when we ask "is this the Sharks' year"? The Sharks have been labeled playoff chokers, but were actually able to advance to the conference finals last season. Their blue-line is led by one of the most consistent defensemen in the game, Dan Boyle.
Boyle tallied another 50 point season, and Jason Demers' game also improved in his sophomore season. Douglas Murray ranks among the game's toughest, and Ian White turned in a very strong performance for the Sharks since he was acquired.
The Sharks' defense is one of the NHL's best and Boyle could lead them to the promised land.
Defensemen: P.K. Subban, Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski, Yannick Weber, Hal Gill, Paul Mara, Brent Sopel
Montreal's defense is certainly a resilient bunch. They lost their best defenseman for the season only seven games in, but still managed to be one of the best squads in the game. Roman Hamrlik is the veteran leader on the blue line, but P.K. Subban finally made the jump to the NHL full time and has done nothing but impress.
Despite his perceived attitude problems, Subban is one of the best young defenders in the game. The addition of James Wisniewski also bolstered Montreal's defense. Brent Sopel provides invaluable experience, having just won the Cup last season with the Chicago Blachawks.
Without stable scoring, defense is how the Montreal Canadiens hope to compete.
Defensemen: Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, Bryan McCabe, Matt Gilroy, Steve Eminger
As has become customary with the Rangers, the scoring dried up and the team has turned to their defense and goaltending to get them by. Fortunately for the Rangers, their defense ranks among the best in the game.
Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have formed one of the best shutdown pairs in the game, and Staal is the leader on the youngest defense in the game. Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh have both turned in very solid rookie seasons, and the acquisition of Bryan McCabe bolstered the powerplay and added some veteran leadership. Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy alternate as the sixth defensemen, with Eminger providing more toughness.
The Rangers will have to hope for their defense to play at an elite level if they are to succeed.
Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Alec Martinez, Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell
In the last two weeks of the season, the Kings saw their team identity shift dramatically. Second leading scorer Justin Williams was already out when the team's star scorer Anze Kopitar broke his ankle. The Kings shifted to a defensive minded game and have done quite well.
Despite a drop-off from last season, Drew Doughty leads the blue-line with Norris caliber play, while Jack Johnson has taken on some of the scoring load. Alec Martinez has been a nice surprise for the Kings, playing very solid defense in his rookie season. Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene, and Rob Scuderi are the veterans on a very young defense, while Scuderi also provides Cup winning experience.
The Kings will have to rely on their defense heavily during the playoffs in the absence of scoring.
Defensemen: Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Ben Lovejoy, Brooks Orpik, Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen
The Penguins were looking like an offensive powerhouse until game 41 of the regular season. That was Sidney Crosby's last game of the year, as he went down with a concussion. The team rallied around their defense and goaltending, and have not only fared well, but thrived.
Kris Letang led the blue line with a Norris Trophy caliber season, and newly signed Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek became integral pieces of the Penguins' defense. Due to the spectacular play of the defensive corps, the Penguins find themselves as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
If the defense continues to play as they have been, there is no reason the Penguins won't walk away with the Stanley Cup.
Defensemen: John Carlson, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, John Erskine, Tyler Sloan, Scott Hannan, Dennis Wideman
What a reversal from years past. The Caps are normally known as an offensive powerhouse with a weak defense who get by solely on goal scoring. The Capitals appeared to have shifted their system and have become one of the best defensive teams in the NHL.
Mike Green experienced injury trouble and did not produce nearly as many points as he normally does, leaving the door open for John Carlson to take over. Carlson's rookie season was excellent, as he led the Caps defense to becoming one of the better units in the league.
The team added Dennis Wideman to improve their defensive scoring, but he will miss the first round of the playoffs, but Green is expected back soon.
The Capitals' new-found defensive game coupled with their scoring ability could be their ticket to the Stanley Cup.
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Tomas Kaberle, Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart
Once again, Zdeno Chara leads one of the best defensive units in the NHL. He has put together another Norris Trophy caliber season, and other players like Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid have come out of the woodwork to become solid defenders.
The acquisition of Tomas Kaberle from the Toronto Maple Leafs immediately made the Bruins a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, which they are still considered. Though Kaberle hasn't contributed much to the scoring, he has improved the power play and is another veteran presence.
With their strong defense, spread out scoring, and rock solid goaltending, the Bruins could be the ones lifting the Stanley Cup.
Defensemen: Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Cody Franson, Francis Bouillon, Kevin Klein, Shane O'Brien, Jonathon Blum
The Nashville Predators have quietly been one of the more successful franchises since the lockout. They have never had any playoff success, but you can pretty much bet on them being there every season. This is due to their rock solid defensive system of hockey.
The defensive corps is led by their captain, Shea Weber, who is one of the best defensemen in the game. Complimenting him is Ryan Suter, another one of the game's brightest young defensive stars. Nashville is not a high scoring team, but their defense is one of the best in the entire game and can shut down the best of players.
If it is the Predators hoisting the Stanley Cup in June, you can bet it had something to do with their defense.
Defensemen: Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Sami Salo, Keith Ballard, Aaron Rome
There was a point in the season where the Canucks' defense was almost entirely injured. Well they're back, healthy, and the best unit in the entire NHL. The Canucks had the lowest goals against in the league thanks to this defense and their strong goaltending.
Christian Ehrhoff became one of the better offensive defenseman in the game, becoming the first Canucks defenseman to score 50 points in over a decade. Alexander Edler, who was their best defenseman during the first half returned from injury just short of the playoffs. Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard both proved to be strong additions to the blue line as well.
The Canucks are the undisputed favorite to win the Stanley Cup this season, thanks in part to this stellar defensive group.