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Nieuwy25

Handicapping The Cup Contenders

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Ted Montgomery

Handicapping the Cup contenders

Now that we're firmly entrenched in the NHL season's stretch drive and each game has a major impact on the standings, let's take a pre-trade deadline look at the teams that have the best chance to win it all at this point. We'll revisit this discussion after the trade deadline.

What's remarkable about this season is that several teams could end up either eighth or first in the Western Conference, depending on who gets hot and who gets cold. Last year at this time, Detroit pretty much had the President's Trophy wrapped up. Not so this season, when it's anybody's to claim.

Let's take a brief look at nine NHL teams that realistically have a chance to go all the way, in order of likelihood that they'll win the Cup:

1. Dallas Stars

Why they could win the Cup: They have had the best overall season of any team, and they have not really had a significant rough patch; they've been remarkably consistent. The defense is playing great, Marty Turco has been superb in goal and Bill Guerin has been an outstanding addition to an already well-rounded offense.

How they could fail to win the Cup: There is not a huge precedent for teams with "playoff rookie" goaltenders to win the Cup. As trite as it seems to say, the playoffs are a completely different season, and some fluke goal in overtime can wreak havoc with a young, inexperienced goaltender's confidence. Just ask Dan Cloutier.

2. Ottawa Senators

Why they could win the Cup: The Senators just have a different look this year. They seem more confident and more determined. Patrick Lalime has been among the best goaltenders all season, and if they can get a Matthew Barnaby type for grit, they might be difficult to beat.

How they could fail to win the Cup: The same old bugaboo ... failure to get out of the first or second round because they can't keep up with their opponent's tenacity and toughness.

3. Colorado Avalanche

Why they could win the Cup: Because they still have the great Patrick Roy, the best playoff performer in NHL history, bar none. Plus Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic have oodles of experience in big games.

How they could fail to win the Cup: The Avs' depth up front just doesn't seem as strong this season as it has been in the recent past. Also, they've inexplicably struggled at the Pepsi Center this season.

4. New Jersey Devils

Why they could win the Cup: They have one of the NHL's best goaltenders in Martin Brodeur, lots of experience on the ice and behind the bench, and when they're on their game, they have a team defensive system that makes Ebenezer Scrooge look downright charitable.

How they could fail to win the Cup: The only possible way the Devils could be eliminated is if their opponent somehow is able to shut down their forwards. They have had brief periods this year when they've struggled to score.

5. Vancouver Canucks

Why they could win the Cup: They have an intense, talented team, led by Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison, perhaps the best line in the league. The defense is underrated, and Marc Crawford has coached a lot of playoff games.

How they could fail to win the Cup: Dan Cloutier has been very good this season, but he suffered from playoff meltdown last season, so until he can win a series, his confidence is an issue. Also, I'm still not convinced that a team that features the Sedin twins on its second line can win 16 playoff games.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs

Why they could win the Cup: They seem more determined this year, and now they have their spiritual leader, Gary Roberts, back in the lineup. Eddie Belfour has exceeded all of the Leafs' expectations.

How they could fail to win the Cup: I'm getting tired of saying this, but the Leafs really need to shore up their defense. I saw a game recently against the Canadiens in which the Leafs' defense blatantly coughed up the puck three times, resulting in three Montreal goals. The Leafs won the game, 5-3, but it was the Canadiens they beat. If they do that against New Jersey, Dallas or Colorado, the Leafs will be looking at late spring tee times.

7. Detroit Red Wings

Why they could win the Cup: The X factor for the Wings is the return of Steve Yzerman; if the captain can bring 80% of his usual game to the Wings, they could vault several notches on this list. Also, don't underestimate the eventual return of Jiri Fischer, who was so crucial to their Cup run last year. This is the one team that scares Dallas; even without Yzerman and Fischer, the Wings played the Stars to a tie in each of their four meetings this season.

How they could fail to win the Cup: If Yzerman is unable to contribute significantly, and if Curtis Joseph can't find his game consistently, last year will be just a sweet memory for the Wings. They could conceivably be eliminated in the first round if things don't fall right.

8. St. Louis Blues

Why they could win the Cup: The Blues' determination knows no bounds. They've played exceptionally well all season despite a succession of goaltenders and the absence of Chris Pronger. Also, they have a lot of depth and spunk up front. They're a scary team, and should last at least two rounds.

How they could fail to win the Cup: Unless the Blues acquire a Sean Burke-type goaltender, they aren't going anywhere. You can't ask the team to continually play through bad goaltending in the playoffs.

9. Philadelphia Flyers

Why they could win the Cup: Their coach has been through the playoffs wars before, and they have some talented forwards and an often-stingy defense.

How they could fail to win the Cup: If John LeClair isn't healthy, and if the Flyers don't make a move at the trade deadline, forget it. They're too inconsistent to beat the Senators, Maple Leafs or Devils in a seven-game series.

The pretenders

In the Western Conference, Minnesota, Anaheim and Edmonton are talented teams, but they don't have the depth to go toe-to-toe with the big boys in their conference. At this point, it seems too late for Nashville, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose to even qualify for the postseason. Calgary and Columbus are on the outside looking in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins blew their big chance to run away with their conference by playing poorly for the last 25 games or so, and Washington, Tampa Bay, the two New York teams, Montreal and Pittsburgh just don't have what it'll take to win the Cup. One team that could give opponents fits is the Florida Panthers; I'd hate to face them in the first round of the playoffs. Carolina, Atlanta and Buffalo are just bad teams.

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The only possible way the Devils could be eliminated is if their opponent somehow is able to shut down their forwards. They have had brief periods this year when they've struggled to score.

Just brief periods of being unable to score? Brief? :unsure:

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At this point, it seems too late for Nashville, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose to even qualify for the postseason.

Teddy's going to eat these words, because Edmonton isn't making the playoffs. They're only 5 points ahead of LA, 6 ahead of Chicago and Nashville, and 7 ahead of Phoenix. Not to mention they just lost Mike York, and the team is playing horribly. One of those four teams will get hot and pass them.

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Hey!!!!! I think that the Leafs are doing great, sure there defense sucks at times, but atleast they don't suck entirely, unlike some team I know here! Also, they are leading the series between NJ and them so what does that say? Well now that everyone probably hates me, I will say goodbye and hahahahaha! :saddevil:

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Hey!!!!! I think that the Leafs are doing great, sure there defense sucks at times, but atleast they don't suck entirely, unlike some team I know here! Also, they are leading the series between NJ and them so what does that say? Well now that everyone probably hates me, I will say goodbye and hahahahaha! :saddevil:

Are toronto fans crawling out of their holes already?

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We were never in holes and we are doing great this year. We are going to make it to the Stanley Cup finals and win so all of you devil fans can go cry to your mammas and shut up!

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Hey!!!!! I think that the Leafs are doing great, sure there defense sucks at times, but atleast they don't suck entirely, unlike some team I know here! Also, they are leading the series between NJ and them so what does that say? Well now that everyone probably hates me, I will say goodbye and hahahahaha! :saddevil:

I thought I smelled cabbage!

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Thanx for sticking up for me Jess, but I can handle my own fights, especially when they are from some stupid jerk that doesn't know anything.

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I think Toronto has as good a chance as anyone to represent the East. Their playoff play has improved each of the past few years. However, they didn't face the Devils last year. :uni:

GO DEVILS!!!

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Thanx for sticking up for me Jess, but I can handle my own fights, especially when they are from some stupid jerk that doesn't know anything.

Junior high out already? Do us a favor and go start on your homework.

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I can handle my own fights, especially when they are from some stupid jerk that doesn't know anything.

You're the jerk that fired the first shot.

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Hey, you don't know anything about me so don't start shooting your mouth off! Thanx, NJDF for aggreeing with me, but everyone knows that the Leafs have a good chance at beating the Devils, but it is the same the other way around! Anways, seeya!

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Hey!!!!! I think that the Leafs are doing great, sure there defense sucks at times, but atleast they don't suck entirely, unlike some team I know here!

well, at least we know she wasn't referring to the Devils with that statement.

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I have gathered enough evidence to determine that toronto fan 09 is a jerk. You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes, all you have to do is read her posts.

Love always,

Jerrydevil

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Hey, you don't know anything about me so don't start shooting your mouth off!

Um... Do you realize what you just said can go for you too?

Its common sense here that if you're going to resort to name calling when you're trying to prove your point, you won't be taken seriously by very many people.

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Ok, this is goint to de-evolve from an interesting post, to name calling back and forth, with the mods having to lock it up (hopefully).

How about nipping it in the bud- Toronto fan is obviously new here and young. How about someone just explain the basic rules of conduct to her so we can all move on and co-exist peacefully?

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Ok, this is goint to de-evolve from an interesting post, to name calling back and forth, with the mods having to lock it up (hopefully).

How about nipping it in the bud- Toronto fan is obviously new here and young. How about someone just explain the basic rules of conduct to her so we can all move on and co-exist peacefully?

Already done! Everybody relax!

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Hey everyone, look I just want to say that I am sorry for bringing up trouble and I don't mean it as the Devils Suck or anything, because they do bring good competition to the Leafs but all of you should know that you would back up your team if someone was rattling your chain and that is all I meant it as. So to end this off, sorry again and I really do mean it. Thanx

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How they could fail to win the Cup: The only possible way the Devils could be eliminated is if their opponent somehow is able to shut down their forwards. They have had brief periods this year when they've struggled to score.

Thats damn generous.

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Hey everyone, look I just want to say that I am sorry for bringing up trouble and I don't mean it as the Devils Suck or anything, because they do bring good competition to the Leafs but all of you should know that you would back up your team if someone was rattling your chain and that is all I meant it as. So to end this off, sorry again and I really do mean it. Thanx

Whew! What a run on!

;)

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It's okay. Welcome! :hi:

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Z-Man:

Teddy's going to eat these words, because Edmonton isn't making the playoffs. They're only 5 points ahead of LA, 6 ahead of Chicago and Nashville, and 7 ahead of Phoenix. Not to mention they just lost Mike York, and the team is playing horribly. One of those four teams will get hot and pass them.

Nashville's been white hot for about two months and they have a game in hand with Edmonton (as you probably know). They have a real shot at the playoffs now provided they stay hot. If that happens, you'd have to vote Trotz coach of the year, even over Jacques.

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