On contenders and pretenders heading into the NHL postseason…
The official NHL countdown clock says that there are 19 days before the playoffs are to start. It also lists the brackets with the matchups based on the current standings. Remember that this year the league will not reseed after round two but will instead have fixed brackets mostly based on the divisions.
I am going to take a look at the sexy underdog selection and what I think is the better underdog selection. Of course the matchups can change over the next 19 days.
Starting in the Atlantic, it will be hard to go against the Boston Bruins. They have the best goal differential (+80) in the league and are fighting with the St. Louis Blues for the President's Trophy. No matter which wild card team they play it is very likely that they advance.
The sexy underdog pick is the Montreal Canadiens because they own the season series against the Bruins.
My underdog pick though would be the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have missed Steven Stamkos for 45 games this season and yet they have a team goal differential of +22. Yes, there was and still is a lot of talk about the departure of Martin St. Louis but that could be a galvanizing factor for the team.
Still, it is an underdog pick.
In the Metropolitan division, the Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins lead the way but they have injury issues. Also I am not certain that the goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury will be any better than the previous playoff seasons.
The sexy pick looks to be the Philadelphia Flyers. After such a horrible start, the team has pulled it together. Whether it was the coaching change or that Claude Giroux's wrists healed does not seem to matter too much. If they get by The New York Rangers then it would look like they could beat up on anyone else in that division's bracket.
What I like though are the three potential wild card teams that could end up facing the Penguins. I'd favour the Columbus Blue Jackets, then the Toronto Maple Leafs followed by the Washington Capitals. Whichever of these teams is matched up against the Penguins I feel that they would have a good chance to upset them.
The Central division favourites are without question the league's current top team, the St. Louis Blues. The Phoenix Coyotes have a chance but only if Mike Smith's injury is not serious. I do not think the Minnesota Wild get by the first round no matter who they play.
The sexy underdog pick is the Colorado Avalanche. They have dominated the season series against the Chicago Blackhawks and Patrick Roy's coaching debut has surprised many experts. Plus who does not like to see young talent blossom.
Can or should the defending Stanley Cup Champions be called an underdog then? Probably not but they seem to be yesterday's news. They are my pick even though Patrick Kane is going to miss the remainder of the regular season. Hopefully he will not