Playoff-o-Meter: Sizing up the NHL's top (and underrated) Stanley Cup contenders
Pens favored to repeat, but Blackhawks are always dangerous and late streakers can't be ignored
Who’s going to do it?
Who’s going to build off a knotted-up playoff race, a strong regular-season close or a historic hot streak to capture this year’s Stanley Cup?
Time will tell, of course. The clock’s ticking and the postseason is right around the corner.
So let’s review the bottom line when it comes to the top contenders, not to mention a few underdogs, for the 2016-17 title.
Look out. The reigning champs were tied with the Washington Capitals atop the league with 95 points entering the week. They should be dominating their final stretch of the regular season, but considering they’re doing so after a massive wave of injuries and, you know, have been through this Stanley Cup Playoffs thing before, they have to be up there as favorites. Goals, goals and more goals should take the Pens far, because they sure have already.
Stanley Cup meter: 90%
Their top dogs are getting lots of help from the young guns, and if Corey Crawford keeps up his more-than-adequate play in the net, where he’s captured nine of his last 12 games, the Blackhawks are probably more poised than anyone to make a run at the Cup. We know Chicago is always a dangerous unit once it gets into the playoff picture, and their big edge over their top Central Division foe, the Minnesota Wild , proves they can hang with the NHL’s best.
Stanley Cup meter: 85%
Maybe it’s Washington’s unfulfilling playoff history talking here, but somehow, things don’t seem so good for a team that long led the league in points. Yes, they’rein terms of overall production and their numbers can’t be ignored. But neither can their bumbling week, which isn’t the end of the world but doesn’t do the Caps any favor in terms of instilling confidence that this year -- yes, finally this year -- will be theirs.
Stanley Cup meter: 80%
There’s a ton to like about the Wild. And as much as they overpaid at the trade deadline, their haul of reinforcements makes them an even tougher squad to deal with. They are so consistent when it comes to their entire season’s worth of performances, but they also need to ensure their recent goals shortage does not prevent them from staying on top of a hotter Blackhawks team. If they enter the playoffs on a roll, they seem poised for a deep run.
Stanley Cup meter: 80%
Columbus Blue Jackets
Consistency is key with these guys. Sergei Bobrovsky deserves all the credit in the world for his recent outings, by the way. It seems a little much to guarantee the Blue Jackets will run past more formidable contenders -- what few there are. But unlike the Capitals, they appear to be barreling toward the playoffs with momentum. Their defense gives them a real shot.
Stanley Cup meter: 75%
New York Rangers
Inconsistent stretch aside, the Rangers are still rolling with a great goal differential. Losing Henrik Lundqvist is not a good thing no matter how you slice it, though. New York will be an interesting one once the playoffs kick off and Lundqvist can settle back in. If they could play all their games on the road, it’d be a lot easier to crown them as Stanley Cup favorites. They’re still dark-horse contenders.
Stanley Cup meter: 70%
San Jose Sharks
Defense wins championships, right? With the second-best goals-allowed total in the NHL, San Jose certainly stands a chance in the long run. While they thrive with top-line talent, though, they aren’t exactly a depth-oriented club as much as, say, a team like the Rangers. That could prove to haunt them down the stretch.
Stanley Cup meter: 65%
For all their recent success and Atlantic Division prominence, the Habs don’t seem to get a ton of love when it comes to Cup chances. And that’s probably a mistake. Claude Julien, stale in Boston, has been a breath of exuberant air in Montreal. Most of all, though, the resurgence of Carey Price in the net makes the Canadiens a very real player heading into the postseason.
Stanley Cup meter: 60%
One of the underdogs in the sense that they aren’t exactly on anyone’s top-five lists across the NHL, the Bruins would surely have one of the best Cup stories if they were to bring home a title under Bruce Cassidy. The question is whether they actually have enough firepower to fend off favorites in a seven-game series. Their top line can do big things, and Tuuka Rask can help back its efforts. Don’t count these Bruins out.
Stanley Cup meter: 60%
At what point does the fantastical idea of a deep Flames playoff run become, well, an obvious one rather than a fantastical one? Mikael Backlund and Brian Elliott , if nothing else, make Calgary a thrilling watch. There’s no better way to boost your confidence than to keep winning and then win some more, as the Flames have done lately. They’re middle-of-the-road in terms of goals scored and goals allowed, but momentum never hurts.
Stanley Cup meter: 55%
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