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NHL playoff power rankings: Who are the Stanley Cup favorites?
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Here is our power rankings of the NHL’s 16 playoff teams:
1. Washington Capitals (55-19-8): The Capitals led the NHL in points because they are dominant in all aspects of the game. They rank first in goals-against average, third in goals per game and fourth on the power play. Goaltender Braden Holtby should be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. They boast the greatest goal scorer of this generation in Alex Ovechkin. All they lack is a good playoff history.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (50-21-11): Although the Penguins have lost defenseman Kris Letang to injury, they still have enough star power and depth to make a serious run at becoming the first team since the 1997-98 Red Wings to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. The Penguins’ speed becomes even more valuable in the playoffs. No opponent can match up effectively against Pittsburgh’s one-two center combination of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins primarily have the same group who won the Cup last summer, plus they have added helpful players such as Ron Hainsey and Jake Guentzel.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (50-23-9): In claiming three Stanley Cups since 2010, the Blackhawks have mastered the art of winning in the postseason. Their depth has been eroded by salary cap issues, but the Magnificent Seven of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford, plus coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman keep this team in contention.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets (50-24-8): It’s fair to wonder whether the Blue Jackets are the team that won 16 games in a row this season or the team that went 23-19-4 after that streak was over. They were stumbling down the stretch, ending the regular season with 1-5-1 slump. What the Blue Jackets do have is the No. 6-ranked offense and leading Vezina Trophy candidate Sergei Bobrovsky. The arrival of rookie defenseman Zach Werenski and the development of Seth Jones has greatly aided the Blue Jackets’ rise. But it is coach John Tortorella's demanding style that makes the Blue Jackets a more determined group.
5. Edmonton Oilers (47-26-9): Edmonton Oilers executive Wayne Gretzky said in January that Oilers captain Connor McDavid must dethrone Sidney Crosby to be called the league’s best player. He started down that path by leading the Oilers into the playoffs for the first time in 11 years and by out-pointing Crosby (100-89) to win the Art Ross Trophy. McDavid may be ahead of schedule in his rise to the top of his sport. More importantly, the Oilers are finally a true contender. After a decade of misery, the Oilers are a top 10 team in both goals-for and goals-against. The Oilers could be a dangerous playoff team.
6. San Jose Sharks (46-29-7): The Sharks were in the Stanley Cup final 10 months ago and only four teams gave up fewer goals this season. This is an experienced, savvy team that understands the poise and patience required to succeed in the postseason. Defenseman Brent Burns (29 goals, 76 points) is in the midst of his most dominant season. He’s one of four Sharks who scored 25 or more goals this season. Don’t underestimate their strengths.
7. Minnesota Wild (49-25-8): An improved offense, coach Bruce Boudreau’s guidance, Eric Staal’s arrival and Devan Dubnyk’s goaltending are the primary reasons why this group gives the Wild the best opportunity they’ve known for sustained playoff success. The Wild finished No. 2 in scoring and Dubnyk was one of the league’s most dominant goaltenders. Staal has bolstered the team’s offensive bite and given Mikko Koivu help at center.
8. New York Rangers (48-28-6): Henrik Lundqvist had a subpar season by his standards, but he still provides the Rangers with their best hope for playoff success. The strength of the team is its goal scoring, which ranks fourth. The Rangers’ weakness is their defense. Despite having a veteran defensive group, led by Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers’ defensive statistics are mediocre. The Rangers’ offense would look even more dominant if they can tighten up their defense.
9. Montreal Canadiens (47-26-9): The Canadiens improved their offense in the offseason with the addition of Alexander Radulov, but they are one of the weaker offensive teams in the playoffs. They will rely on Carey Price’s goaltending and Claude Julien’s coaching process. Julien is a strong bench coach who likes to juggle lines. His experience has made the Canadiens more playoff-ready. Last summer’s additions of Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber also made Montreal a pricklier team.
10. St. Louis Blues (46-29-7): The Blues were 22-8-2 after Ken Hitchcock was fired and replaced by Mike Yeo. The Blues could be a sleeper in the Western Conference. Goalie Jake Allen has also given the team more confidence by posting an 11-2-2 record in his past 15 starts. He gave up two or fewer goals in 11 of those starts. Vladimir Tarasenko (39 goals) is the scariest scorer in the West. The Blues have played the way they need to play to be successful in the postseason.
11. Anaheim Ducks (46-23-13): Nothing would help the Ducks more this postseason than Corey Perry rediscovering the touch that once allowed him to be a 50-goal scorer. He scored only 19 times this season. That’s one reason the Ducks only ranked 18th in goal scoring (2.68 goals per game). This is a team that relies on defense and goaltending, and both have been very good. Goalie John Gibson (2.22 goals-against average, .924 save percentage) will be Anaheim’s starting goalie, even though Jonathan Bernier went 10-0-2 in March when Gibson was hurt.
12. Boston Bruins (44-31-7): The Bruins need goalie Tuukka Rask and two-way center Patrice Bergeron to be at their best. The Bruins made a gritty run just to qualify for the playoffs, but they are now limping in with injuries. With defenseman Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo both injured, the Bruins may play newly-signed, former first-round pick Charlie McAvoy in their first-round series against Ottawa. The former Boston University standout is only 19, but he is known for a mature playing style. He’s a smooth player, as strong defensively as he is offensively.
13. Nashville Predators (41-29-12): What you see is what you get with the Nashville Predators. They ranked 11h in goal scoring and 15th in goals-against. Their 94 points is the fewest among playoff teams. They have a skillful defense and Filip Forsberg is a force up front. But they need everything to go right, including Pekka Rinne being stellar in net, to make noise.
14. Calgary Flames (45-33-4): The Flames are the scariest kind of team because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Nobody expects much from them in the first round because the Ducks won the season series 4-1-0 and the Flames have a long losing streak in Anaheim. But the Flames are a scrappy, competitive bunch, with some noteworthy scorers, such as Johnny Gaudreau, and a mobile defensive corps. If Brian Elliott is sharp in net, they could be a surprise team.
15. Ottawa Senators (44-28-10): Defenseman Erik Karlsson is the Senators’ most dominant player and their biggest worry. He’s the league’s most explosive puck-moving defenseman. He’s also going to be playing hurt. On paper, the Senators seem to be getting everyone back in the lineup, but the presumption is that several players, including Karlsson, may not be at 100%. The Senators need goalie Craig Anderson to play as sharply as he did earlier in the season. Coach Guy Boucher has the Senators playing with a harder edge. Karlsson in particular has stepped up his defensive game, including his shot-blocking. The key for the Senators is goalie Craig Anderson.
16. Toronto Maple Leafs (40-27-15): The young Leafs are explosive, exciting and full of promise, but they are not ready for the rigors of playoff hockey. This is a group that won’t hit their full stride until two seasons from now. In the meantime, Auston Matthews will be difficult for any opposing defenseman to control. Add in William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri and you see a team capable of scoring four goals per game. But the Maple Leafs can also be leaky enough to give up five. They are going to be a superb team, just not this spring.