1. San Jose Sharks
San Jose entered the playoffs on a serious roll. Before dropping its last two essentially meaningless regular season games, the Sharks had gone a ridiculous 18-0-2, a run which included the best March in NHL history (16-0-2). Most of that serious roll came after a trade for defenseman Brian Campbell, who gave the team an offensive presence from the blue line which boosted its power play into the upper echelon. The Sharks already had superstar center Joe Thornton, who led the NHL in assists, and goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who was tops in wins, so talent isn't an issue. Unfortunately, San Jose dropped its first game of the postseason to Calgary, and had to scramble a bit to restore order. But I have every confidence that they will regroup and come out strong for the rest of the series/playoffs.
2. Detroit Red Wings
The good news is that the Red Wings finished as the top team in the NHL, with three players (Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Henrik Zetterberg) in the top five in plus-minus, and the league's best goal-against average. The bad news: Detroit has the league's oldest roster and has a bit of a history of playoff chokage. In fact, only in 2002 has Detroit won the Cup as a top seed...
3. Montreal Canadiens
Interesting fact: the Stanley Cup hasn't been in Canada since the Canadiens won it in 1993. But Montreal will need to grow up fast, as, outside of veteran star Alex Kovalev, this is a young team that missed the playoffs last year and is banking on rookie goaltender Carey Price, to not come off looking like... well, a rookie...
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Speaking of the young, the Penguins are also struggling to gain valuable experience in the playoffs. But Sidney Crosby and Co. got their free time in the postseason water in 2007, and are now ready to make a bit more of a splash. They were just inches away from having the Eastern Conference's best record and trust me, the NHL would love nothing more than to see one of its brightest Stars get some major playoff experience over the next two months.
5. Anaheim Ducks
Last year, this squad gained all sorts of good karma by not only dropping the cliche "Mighty" in its name, but also by continuing to positively identify itself with the fine city of Anaheim, unlike a certain scummy baseball team. The result? A championship. Fair trade, if you ask me. However, the Ducks' karmic (sp?) ledger may have taken a huge hit when the NHL signed up Lauren Conrad to blog about the team's quest for a repeat. Not only does it degrade the venerable Stanley Cup to be associated with the vapid star of MTV's "The Hills," but in her very first post, Conrad admitted she was actually a fan of the Los Angeles Kings! Sorry, Anaheim. Better luck next year...