With the playoffs right around the corner, i think now is a good time to break down which teams are going to make a serious run at Lord Stanleys Cup, and who is along for the ride.  It's been an interesting season so far but every hockey fan knows there is nothing like the playoffs.  The NHL playoffs, in my opinion, are by far and away the best of any sport.  Greuling series that can sometimes create rivalries, even if they only last a few years.  As a long time Islanders fan, there will always be the natural rival of the Rangers.  But I was at an infamous game that created it's own.  The Dale Hunter hit on Pierre Turgeon after Turgeon scored the goal to ice the series.  That one still doesn't sit well with us and it's been almost 20 years. I'll start in the East.

     The New York Rangers are 6 points clear of the Pens.  But the Pens have a game in hand and Sidney Crosby coming back for their match up tomorrow.  If the Rangers can hold the 1 spot, I think they have a chance of breezing through 2 rounds.  If the Pens catch them,  It may be a season of what could've been.  I think the Rangers have struggled a little lately and will need secondary scoring badly come April.  I think they may have peaked too soon but with Henrik Lundqvist, anything is possible.

     The Pittsburgh Penguins.  They have again put up a record i didn't think was possible without Crosby.  Whether they get to the 1 or not, this is a dangerous team that should be heavily considered to make a run.

     The Boston Bruins did it last year.  They didn't have much roster turnover and are poised to make another run.  The injury to rask will hurt as Marty Turco let up 3 goals in 5 minutes, was pulled, and was put back in after Thomas let in 2 and the game got out of reach only to surrender Stamkos' 50th goal of the season.  Hope Thomas is in top physical condition.

     I picked Florida as the most improved team in the off season.  I didn't think was they'd be in position to win the division.  They've led most of the season thanks to a Capitals team that looks lost at times.  While the Caps have more talent, Florida plays better as a team.  But there's no doubt the upper hand will go to which ever team wins the division, not the one that ends up in the 8 spot.

     I'm not saying the Flyers or Devils can't get there, but there are a lot of questions.  For the Flyers, the organization gave Bryzgalov a huge contract without much playoff success.  To be continued?  And the Devils, How much gas does Marty Brodeur have in the tank?  Is there more offense beyond Kovy and Henrique?  I think those holes will appear come the playoffs.

Now on to the West, 

     The St. Louis Blues have come out of nowhere to lead the West.  It really has been an incredible turn around.  No team in the NHL is as team oriented as the Blues.  Very deep, and well coached.  Are they ready to play with the big boys in Vancouver and Detroit?

     Speaking of which, Vancouver.  Still in the race for the top spot.  Some questions are still left from last season.  Mainly, can Luongo get past his personal demons.  The trade of Hodgson for Kassian didn't make sense to me.  While I think Kassian has a big upside, Hodgson was having a huge break out season.  Timing seems off. 

     Detroit.  The Wings have struggled of late but they are injury ridden.  Mainly, Niklas Lidstrom.  Their finishing spot will not ultimately determine their fate but a higher spot would be helpful for Datsyuk and friends who have an outstanding record at home, setting a new record with 23 straight home wins.

     To me. those 3 are the only teams that can come out of the west.  The Stars aren't nearly deep enough.  The Blackhawks goaltending will seal their fate.  Can't believe they didn't make a deadline move.  The only other team i can give half a chance to is the Nashville Predators.  Pekka Rinne is amazing.  I think the Preds can knock off the Blues if they match up.  But Vancouver and the Wings will make you score goals to beat them.  I'm not sure the Preds offense is up to a task like that.