Vancouver Canucks and 7 Other Teams with Something to Prove in 2011-2012

Joel ProsserCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2011

Vancouver Canucks and 7 Other Teams with Something to Prove in 2011-2012

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    Only one team can win the Stanley Cup each year.

    This means the other 29 teams are all essentially losers.

    However, the sting of losing is greater for some rather than others.

    Some teams just weren't expected to win the Stanley Cup, so it isn't a big deal to them. They had other goals, like just collecting revenue sharing or getting a better draft pick.

    But for the teams that had championship aspirations, every image of the Bruins hoisting the Stanley Cup is a reminder of an opportunity lost.

    With that motivation in mind, here are eight teams with something to prove in the 2011-2012 season.

Vancouver Canucks

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    Heading into the 2010-2011 season, the Canucks seemed primed for a championship run. Many publications, including the Hockey News, picked them to win the Stanley Cup.   

    The Canucks dealt with injury adversity and ran roughshod over the rest of the NHL in the regular season, winning the President's Trophy and dominating many statistical categories.  

    In the playoffs, they surprised everyone by ramping up their physical game to lead the NHL in playoff hits through the first three rounds, defeating the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks on the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. 

    In the Finals, the Canucks won the first two games in dramatic fashion to lead the series, only to break in Game 7 due to a combination of mounting injuries and the Bruin's relentless physical pressure. 

    While there are legitimate injury reasons for some, none of the Canucks star players looked good in the latter half of the Stanley Cup Finals. Losing at home, and the riot that followed, just added salt to their wounds. 

    The Canucks are fielding pretty much the same team this year, and after a long summer of having their will to win questioned, they have something to prove in 2011-2012.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Flyers were a popular pick to represent the Eastern Conference, but they fell short in the second round.

    To be fair, missing a Norris trophy defenseman like Chris Pronger is a huge void that would cripple pretty much any team.

    But the Flyers also tried to play with a bullpen approach, starting three different goalies in the playoffs, and got burned. 

    Now with Ilya Bryzgalov in net, and a rebuilt forward corps after the trading of former franchise forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the Flyers are out to prove something to their critics in 2011-2012.

San Jose Sharks

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    The Sharks have a reputation of being the NHL's premier playoff choke artists, a big and skilled team that just didn't perform when the going got tough. 

    But their performance over the last few months went a long way to erasing that reputation.  

    First, their two premier forwards, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, showed up and  not only scored, they played physical on every shift. In the Western Conference finals, Thornton even challenged Canuck Ryan Kesler to fight off the opening draw of Game 1 in an effort to set a tone for the series. Marleau also got into a spirited fight with Kevin Bieksa in an effort to inspire his team. He lost, but it was the effort and willingness to scrap that mattered. 

    The Shark's other "premier" forward didn't live up to the elevated standards set by Marleau and Thornton.

    Dany Heatley coasted through the playoffs, not scoring, skating or checking. He did a great job of taking up a roster spot and devouring cap space though, eventually ending up on the third line.  

    Heatley was then dumped during the off season in a trade with Minnesota for Martin Havlat.

    To add insult to injury, the Sharks lost Game 5, and the Western Conference finals, on a fluke goal.  

    In double overtime, with the Sharks down 3-1 in the series, a dump in along the boards hit a stanchion on the glass and ricocheted out to the slot. No one, including the TV guys and fans, knew where the puck was.

    No one that is, except for Kevin Bieksa, who calmly wired it into the back of the net past a bewildered Niemi to dump the Sharks out of the playoffs. 

    Out to erase their lingering reputation and avenge that fluke goal, the new look San Jose Sharks have something to prove in 2011-2012.

New York Rangers

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    The Rangers landed the most coveted free agent this summer with their blockbuster signing of Brad Richards.  

    The Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winning centre brings some playoff pedigree and leadership to the Rangers, but more importantly, he can run their offense regardless of whether Marion Gaborik is in the sick bay or on the ice. 

    The Rangers were the toughest team in the NHL last season, leading the league in hits, and have a stalwart goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist.  Now that they have a greatly improved offense, they are out to bring home the Stanley Cup in 2011-2012.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2009-2010, and then took a huge tumble in 2010-2011. Partly due to a Stanley Cup hangover, and partly due to the salary cap decimation of their championship roster, the Hawks finished 8th in the West, and barely qualified for the playoffs.

    In fact, they lost their last game of the season to Detroit, which would have clinched a playoff berth, and had to get help from other teams losing as well to make the playoffs. 

    They then were outworked and outclassed by the Vancouver Canucks early in the first round, losing the first three games in humiliating fashion before a combination of Jonathan Toew's inspired leadership and a devastating hit to Brent Seabrook woke up the Hawks. 

    The Hawks stormed back into the series with a vengeance and forced a Game 7.

    In Game 7, Toews showed why he won a Conn Smythe by scoring a short handed goal in the last minute of the third period to force overtime.

    Unfortunately for Chicago, it was too little, too late, as Vancouver would win the series through an Alex Burrows overtime goal. 

    In 2011-2012, the Hawks are out to prove that most of last season was a mistake, and that the true Hawks didn't emerge until the last four games of the playoffs. With a roster bolstered by newly signed tough guys and emerging rookies, expect them to come out hard from the opening day of the season.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Penguins played great without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the second half of the season last year.  

    With Crosby's recent announcement that he is still recovering from concussion symptoms, the Penguins will need to duplicate that effort and commitment to defence this year. 

    Although they have Malkin back this year, the Penguins will be out to prove that their Crosby-less performance in 2010-2011 wasn't a fluke.

Los Angeles Kings

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    The Kings returned to the playoffs in 2009-2010, and looked to be a promising young team that would only get better. 

    However, a season ending ankle injury to top centre Anze Kopitar cut short their dreams of a long playoff run last season. Adding insult to injury, they lost to their California rivals, the San Jose Sharks. 

    Rather than use injury as an excuse, General Manager Dean Lombardi pulled off a blockbuster trade to acquire Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers, and then added Simon Gagne as a free agent. 

    In 2011-2012, the Kings are out to prove that their young and still improving roster, bolstered by the off season additions, can compete with the best in the West.

Buffalo Sabres

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    The Sabres had a great goaltender, but their offense let them down last season in the playoffs, and their defence was a bit too porous in allowing the opposing forwards a free pass to the net.

    The additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff will address the issues on defence, and Ville Leino will help to improve the offense on a now healthy team as the Sabres are out to prove that their first round loss in 2010-2011 was an aberration.