As we near the end of March, many teams are making their case to be in the playoffs throughout the NHL. It has been an uneven season for a lot of teams, but as of late, a few have really stood out.
The Anaheim Ducks started the season very poorly, but have become a force to be reckoned with. Close to the midway point in the season, they had a lousy at best record of 12-15-6 and forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler along with goalie Frederick Andersen were all underperforming.
Now the goals are starting to pile up and Andersen looks like the goalie that led the Ducks to the Western Conference Final last year. His goals against average since the 12-15-6 start is 2.06 which is top 3 in the NHL since then. From mid-January to early March, the Ducks have gone 17-2-1 and are seated 5th in the Western Conference, so it’s fair to say they have turned their season around.
A team that is regressing and is out of the playoff picture is the Montreal Canadiens. They have gone from a dominant team that started 19-4-3 and was dominating the entire eastern conference, to a subpar team at 32-31-6 that really can’t find a way to string together wins.
The biggest problem for the Habs was losing goalie Carey Price to a lower body injury on November 25th against the New York Rangers in late November. Mike Condon has done a pretty good job coming in and taking a huge majority of the workload, but he is certainly no Carey Price and it has shown not only through his goaltending, but also with the rest of the team.
As we get closer to the playoffs, we should also look into teams that could make a run at the Stanley Cup. The first team that comes to mind right now is the Boston Bruins. They are in the midst of a rocky season, but it has been a career year for Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson.
The Bruins have been playing well away all season long with a record of 23-7-3, which is the best in the NHL, and if Tuukka Rask can heat up like he did back in the 2013 playoffs, they could end up right back in the Stanley Cup Finals. The only thing holding them back is their defense. The Bruins are in the bottom half of the league when it comes to goals against and if a team can stay sharp in the postseason, it can change the tone for an entire series.
The other team that can make a playoff run ending with them hoisting the cup would be the defending champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. They are by far the most experienced team when it comes to the playoffs and making deep playoff runs, as many of the players on their current team have been a part of at least one of the three Stanley Cup winning teams in the last six years. Patrick Kane is having a career year, and players like Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford can really heat up at any time and can make a huge difference for their team in any given series.
What’s different with this Blackhawks team compared to last year’s team is that they are missing a few of the key players. This past offseason, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Johnny Oduya made their departures from Chicago and these were all guys that had major impacts in the Stanley Cup Finals last year.
By the looks of it, the end of this season is certainly going to be full of drama with all of the teams that are still in it. If the season ended today, my picks for the Stanley Cup Finals are going to be the Washington Capitals and the Los Angeles Kings.