NHL Playoffs 2012: Now or Never for These 4 Teams to Win Stanley Cup

John Bain@John_BainCorrespondent IIApril 10, 2012

NHL Playoffs 2012: Now or Never for These 4 Teams to Win Stanley Cup

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    The 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs open on Wednesday evening, and there are several returning playoff teams whose time to win the Cup is quickly coming to a close. Unless you are a team like Detroit, in the NHL there are windows of opportunity to win the games Holy Grail before time runs out and something has to change. 

    There are four teams in specific in this years postseason whose windows are almost shut on their current cores to win a cup together. In the West the San Jose Sharks and the Phoenix Coyotes time seems to be rapidly closing on them, and the in the East it is inevitable that big changes are coming in Washington and Philadelphia if things don't turn for the better in this postseason.

    There is too much parity in the NHL these days for a team to have a chance for a decade to win a Cup, and eventually changes must be made and choices on the direction of a franchise depend on postseason success.

    In the long run, dependent on success this postseason, these four teams could experience an overhaul and be forced to rebuild if they want to find themselves with a Cup in the next decade.

San Jose Sharks

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    In the past two playoff seasons, the San Jose Sharks have reached the Western Conference Finals twice and lost both times, with just one victory in nine games played. After finishing first in the Pacific Division for the past four seasons, the Sharks lost out to the Phoenix Coyotes finishing one point back of the division title this season.

    The Sharks have been tagged with the "choke artist" name for several years as they have made the playoffs 15 times since becoming an NHL franchise in 1991-92 and have never advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals despite having terrific teams and coaching throughout the years. 

    After trying to make significant changes last offseason dealing the likes of Devon Setoguchi and Dany Heatley away, the Sharks still find themselves in a familiar setting, the playoffs. Should they not advance past St. Louis in the first round, however, the core group of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Ryan Clowe among others could find themselves with a whole new team next year.

    If the Sharks cannot win a cup with a team that has performed so unbelievably consistently each regular season, but not perform in the playoffs year in and year out, making the playoffs is no longer important and adjustments must be made for the Sharks to become a Stanley Cup winner.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Philadelphia Flyers have made the playoffs each of the last five seasons but have reached the conference finals and lost, as well as losing out on a shot at the Stanley Cup in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009-10. 

    The Flyers shocked all of the NHL in the offseason when they dealt away their two mainstays in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards for no apparent reason. The loss of Chris Pronger has also hurt the Flyers on the back end as well as inconsistent goaltending from big-ticket signee Ilya Bryzgalov. 

    Although the Flyers find themselves in the fifth seed in the East these playoffs, there's a good chance they won't be back in the playoffs for a while if they don't make the Cup Finals this season. The impatience of GM Paul Holmgren shows that he is willing to blow the team up and build a championship team if given the green light to do so. 

    With the potential to move James Van Riemsdyk in the offseason and losing some of their veterans in the near future, a Cup is now or never for the Flyers who are looking for their first championship since 1975.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    It should come as no surprise to see the most unstable franchise in the NHL on this list. Despite just securing their first division title in franchise history, the Phoenix Coyotes don't have a very big window to do just about anything. 

    Following two straight first-round exits in the Western Conference quarterfinals at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, and having never making it past the first round of the playoffs in franchise history, the Coyotes are in their best position to make a Cup run ever. 

    There are too many variables for the Coyotes, however, to have a window larger than this season to win a championship. Whether it's the rumors of them moving to Quebec City, the fact that Mike Smith isn't a true NHL starting goaltender or their aging lineup—too much can go wrong than good for the Coyotes to win a Cup in the near future.

    It truly is a win or go home (wherever that ends up being) situation for the 'Yotes.

Washington Capitals

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    When one thinks of closing Stanley Cup windows, one team should come up right away—the Washington Capitals. In the Alexander Ovechkin-era of the Caps, the postseason has been nothing short of a disappointment. 

    Apart from plenty of individual accolades for Ovechkin, the Caps have never qualified past the Eastern Conference semifinals in his time with the team. When there is so much talent on a team and they cannot seem to win, changes must be made.

    The Caps have had multiple opportunities to change the makeup of their team but have passed them by because of the belief they could win with the current core group. Clearly this is not the case.

    Their opening round series against the Boston Bruins should show a lot of wholes in the Caps lineup and prove to their management they are not ready to make a Cup run, and their window of opportunity has come to a close.

    Have to feel bad for the people in DC, no championships in any major sports coming their way for a while it seems.