Photo courtesy of sxc.hu.
Anthony Lyen, Tempo Editor
Alex Veeneman, Opinions Editor
As hockey fans rejoiced at the end of the lockout and the return of the season this past January, there would without a question be a consensus that the road to the Stanley Cup would be distinct. A salvaged season brought more challenges to teams to show their fans that they were the best in the National Hockey League, as the daily back-to-back matches took their toll.
With the last week of the regular season approaching, it is time to examine the challenges that these teams faced in an exciting, albeit shortened, NHL season, and what teams shall excite fans in one of the most exciting times of the season — the playoffs.
Luckily for us, there have been a lot of teams that have given this shortened season its value and have shown they deserve to be a part of the playoffs.
The Chicago Blackhawks have dominated since day one, showcasing the best goaltending, defense and offense through an all-star line-up, including Jonathan Toews, Ray Emery, Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp.
We say this not because this newspaper is based in Chicago, but because of the league record set for no losses in regulation that dominated most of the season. They have, without question, deserved their place in the conference climax.
One team, however, has been on the Blackhawks’ tail this entire season, going relatively unnoticed by many. The Anaheim Ducks had a dreadful 2011-2012 season, so Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Co. had plenty to think about during the offseason. Well, this team stormed back, and they have been compiling win after win, dominating almost as much as the Blackhawks (the Ducks are 3-0-0 against the Hawks this season). Plenty of praise goes to goaltender Viktor Fasth, who, despite being a 30-year-old rookie, has been playing quite well, earning 14 wins and a .922 save percentage.
The Montreal Canadiens have rightfully deserved their place, too, with standout performances from Carey Price and P.K. Subban. Their performances have been the crème de la crème of the northeast division, including their duels with the Boston Bruins. They may be the hockey equivalent of the New York Yankees when it comes to their experiences in the playoffs, but that is not the case this year, as they have deserved that spot in the division.
The Vancouver Canucks also have a chance. However, there is a missing ingredient to the success of the Canucks should they make a full playoff round — Roberto Luongo, who has a contract with the team through the next decade and has shown time and again that he is a brilliant goaltender. Cory Schneider is as well, yet the Canucks appear to not be giving Luongo the proper chance he deserves. While Vancouver’s overall performance has shown they have a chance at hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, offering Luongo the opportunity to be a part of that will confirm that they want to be a part of the chase.
With the Blackhawks dominating in the Western Conference, the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins continue to crush the competition in the Eastern Conference. Although leading scorer and team captain Sidney Crosby is out with a broken jaw, there are plenty of other talented superstars within the Pens’ line-up who are more than capable of allowing the Penguins to have a deep playoff run. Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Jarome Iginla and Marc-Andre Fleury are all poised to help this star-studded team get far in the playoffs.
There are many teams who are struggling to grasp on to a playoff spot, however. The New York Rangers started out as Stanley Cup favorites, but the Original Six team has struggled all season, which has hockey fans in the Big Apple scratching their heads.
The Detroit Red Wings have a long, proud history of making the Stanley Cup playoffs, but their dreams for a spot in the postseason have been more of a nightmare. Losing quality players, such as future hall-of-famer Nicklas Lidstrom, has really hurt this team, who is struggling to capture the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Inconsistent play is putting the team’s 21-season playoff streak in jeopardy.
Playoff hockey is much different than the regular season. It is faster, tougher and more intense. And although 16 teams will enter, only one will earn the right to hoist the Stanley Cup.