Despite the shortened 2012-13 NHL season, two teams will be competing for the Stanley Cup championship in the 2013 NHL playoffs.
Last season, the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings proved that you don't have to be a high seed to raise Lord Stanley's Cup, as L.A. blew through the 2012 NHL postseason to win the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup championship.
So who will be battling for top honors in the NHL this year?
The Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks have run through the competition in the NHL this season, posting the league's best record (36-7-5) thanks in large part to an epic 24-game point streak. Just look at where they ranked this season in some of the league's major statistical categories.
|Goals per Game||3.1||2nd|
|Power Play %||16.6||19th|
|Penalty Kill %||87.2||3rd|
Patrick Kane has been incredible for Chicago, finishing fifth in the league in terms of points, with 55 (23 goals and 32 assists). Jonathan Toews also got in on the action for the Blackhawks, posting 48 points, including 23 goals.
To go with the Blackhawks' lethal scoring offense, goaltender Ray Emery has been a brick wall in net, going 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Corey Crawford has been stellar too, going 19-5-5 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
Had Sidney Crosby been healthy, I'd have gone with the Pittsburgh Penguins to come out of the Eastern Conference, but with Crosby suffering that devastating broken jaw (h/t ESPN), the Pittsburgh Penguins' scoring attack isn't as dynamic as it usually is with Crosby running the show.
ESPN NHL coverage @ESPN_NHL
Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh Penguins practices, return from broken jaw uncertain http://t.co/lrDxTBEQza2013-4-26 18:29:08
Crosby led Pittsburgh during the regular season with 56 points, highlighted by 41 assists.
I think the Canadiens play both sides of the puck extremely well, and both sides are equally balanced. Here's how Montreal stacked up this season against the rest of the NHL:
|Goals per Game||3.0||4th|
|Power Play %||20.7||5th|
|Penalty Kill %||79.8||23rd|
Montreal saw five players post at least 30 points this season, including two defensemen (P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov). Led by left winger Max Pacioretty—who led Montreal with 39 points—the Canadiens have the offense to contend for the cup.
Despite goaltender Carey Price struggling as the Canadiens enter the playoffs, Price has been a reliable netminder this season, while Montreal has a more than serviceable backup in Peter Budaj.
I think the Canadiens have enough offense to combat Price's struggles and make a run at the Stanley Cup in 2013.
Follow me on Twitter: Follow @Pete_Schauer