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February 3, 2011

Stanley Cup Contenders Are Plentiful This Season

When I was a kid, there were NHL seasons where you had a really good idea who was going to win the Stanley Cup by mid season. There have been times when the gap between good and bad teams in the NHL was very wide. You could go through and split up the teams that made the playoffs into two groups. One group consisted of just a hand full that were Cup contenders. The majority of the teams would probably put on a good show but they weren’t going to win the Cup. Other seasons, like the current one that has only a few games left, leave you wondering which teams don’t have a shot at the Cup.

I must say, I am very pleased with the distribution of talent throughout the NHL. I am so excited about this playoff year because it looks like just about every team that is going to the playoffs, and a few that will just narrowly miss it, have a shot at the Cup. This season has been a season of extremes around the league. Teams have played extraordinarily well or incredibly bad. Some teams have great records but exposed their weaknesses at some point during the season. Others teams seem to be getting stronger and more efficient as the playoffs near.

One of the teams that has found their way to the top of the standings, with only Detroit in their way, is San Jose. At the beginning of the year there were questions about the Sharks because they were not playing that well at home. In fact, at one point I think that the Kings had won more games in San Jose’s arena than the Sharks themselves had. However, the Sharks have found a way to completely turn the season around. Now they are posed for a serious playoff run, one that could see them in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Minnesota Wild is a team that dominants when they score the first goal and tend to sink when their opponents score the first goal. The Wild have been a good team for several seasons now but they seem to have reached a higher level of maturity this year. They are still a defensive minded team but with well rounded scoring and the excellent idea of revolving captains, the team has become more efficient. They too will be hard to knock out of the playoffs.

The Calgary Flames are another team that has a great shot at the Cup. With Iginla, the best captain in the league, by my opinion, and Dion Phanuef, the offensive, defense specialist leading the way, the Flames could pull off another Cup run and possibly be the last team standing. They just need to be sure that the team that plays most nights, the elite Clagary Flames, opposed to the one that sneaks into games now and then, the mediocre Calgary Flames, is the one that shows up.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are packed full of youth, enthusiasm and talent. They are armed and dangerous with Sid Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and a host of others who are eager to play and ready to win. They lack experience and age but do not underestimate the strength of youth and the power of enthusiasm. The Penguins, if they play their cards right, could be the team to beat from the East.

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