As we approach the final weeks of this 2011-2012 NHL season, I have decided to put together a list of my top 5 Stanley Cup contenders. It has been another great year of NHL hockey and we still have much more to come. There are many playoff races that are yet to be decided and it should be a fight to finish to see who gets to participate in the postseason. There are many intriguing teams that could potentially make a strong run at the Stanley Cup but I have found 5 teams that I believe have the best opportunity at bringing home Lord Stanley this summer.

1. Vancouver Canucks (42-19-8) (2nd in West): It is a new year and it allows for a new opportunity for this Vancouver Canucks team. The loss last season in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins has been all the motivation needed for the Canucks. This squad has been under great scrutiny since that dreadful shutout loss in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and they entered this season with only one goal in mind, to win the Stanley Cup. Last season at the trade deadline, the Canucks added Chris Higgins and Maxim Lappierre who had a significant impact in the Canucks long playoff run. This season the Canucks were again looking to add depth up front and were able to land Zack Kassian and Sami Pahlsson. They also boast a strong back end with 9 total defenseman currently on their NHL roster. The Canucks had 13 defenseman entering the postseason last year and finished with only 7, so it is evident that having depth on defense is a key to playoff success. The Canucks also have a solid goaltending tandem in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Schneider has allowed Luongo to gain plenty of rest during the season, hoping that Luongo will be prepared to make a deep playoff run. They are also equipped with two top lines that can produce much needed offense for them during their postseason run. The memories of last seasons game 7 Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Bruins is definitely still fresh in their minds and they will undoubtedly be looking to change their fortunes by capturing their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.

2. New York Rangers (44-18-7) (1st in East): A year ago the Rangers managed to win 44 games and barely get into the Stanley Cup playoffs. This season however is a different story. They have gone from a first round pushover to a potential cup contender. The stellar goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the only reason why the Rangers are where they are at this point in the season. Martin Biron has done a wonderful job of limiting Lundqvist’s workload, allowing Head Coach John Tortorella to turn to Biron whenever he feels Lundqvist needs a rest.  They, like the Canucks have great depth on defense with 9 defenseman on the current NHL roster. The addition of Brad Richards this past summer has paid great dividends for this Rangers team. The top line consists of two 20-goal scorers’ in Richards and Callahan and also has a 30-goal man in Marian Gaborik. Their second line is one of the best shutdown lines in the NHL. Brandon Dubinsky can matchup against any of the top players on opposing teams. The Rangers may lack a little depth up front and that may hurt them when we get deeper into the postseason but non the less they are certainly a team to watch out for as we enter the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

3. Detroit Red Wings (44-23-3) (4th in West): The Red Wings have had a season to remember and are hoping that it will continue when the playoffs roll around. The Red Wings made NHL history earlier this season by winning an unprecedented 23 games in a row on home ice. Ironically the team that ended the historic streak of the Red Wings is first on my list, the Vancouver Canucks. That may be enough motivation for the Red Wings, attempting to prevent the Cancuks from capturing their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. The major advantage that the Red Wings have over all other playoff teams is their previous experience on the grandest stage in all of hockey. Red Wings captain, Nicklas Lidstrom has won 4 Stanley Cups and has participated in the Stanley Cup playoffs 19 times in his hall of fame career. The Wings will also have their superstar, Pavel Datsyuk back healthy after he missed significant time with a knee injury. Second line centre Henrik Zetterberg is finally heating up after a slow start and he is looking like the Henrik of old when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 2008-2009 Stanley Cup Finals. Jimmy Howard may be the key to the Red Wings success this postseason. He led the league in wins for much of the year but suffered a hand injury that kept him out for a few weeks. He hasn’t looked sharp since returning to the lineup and it is important for him to find his groove if the Red Wings hope to make a deep run into the playoffs. The Red Wings also have great depth on defense. They added Kyle Quincey at the trade deadline and have a physical defenseman who can also score in Nicklas Kronwall. They play a brand of hockey that is perfect for the postseason. Their old fashioned style of play has been the trademark of their success throughout the years. 

4. St. Louis Blues (45-18-8) (1st in West): The St. Louis Blues are this year’s NHL feel good story. The Blues have not made the playoffs in three seasons and this year they are poised to not only make the playoffs but to compete for a Stanley Cup title. The Blues are Presidents Trophy bound as they lead the league in points with less than a month to go in the season. The Blues boast the best home record in the NHL going 29-4-4 on home ice this season. As the top seeded team in the Western Conference, it will be difficult for teams such as Colorado, Calgary, or San Jose to go into St. Louis and defeat the Blues. The goaltending tandem of Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak is arguably the best in the entire NHL. Elliot ranks first in save percentage and goals against average. Halak and Elliot have 12 shutouts combined this season. The Blues have great depth up front with ten 10+-goal scorers. They are one of the best defensive teams in the league and as they say “defense wins championships”. The lack of playoff experience within this group may hurt them but Head Coach, Ken Hitchcock will definitely have them ready to play come playoff time.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (42-21-5) (4th in East): The return of Sidney Crosby to the Penguins lineup certainly improves their chances of returning to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in the past five years. The Pens have been one of the most dominant teams in the entire NHL this season. They are currently on a 9 game winning streak and have more points than the second place Boston Bruins. With Crosby returning, the Penguins now have a very potent offense, offering three lines that can produce solid numbers offensively. Evgeni Malkin has been the best player in the NHL this season as he currently leads the league in points with 84. The Pens also have great depth on defense and if Kris Letang is able to return to the lineup prior to the postseason, it provides them with a defenseman that can log up to 25 minutes a night against any team’s top line. Marc-Andre Fleury has been stellar for the Penguins this season. He is currently second in the league in wins with 37. Most of the current Penguins roster was apart of the Pens Stanley Cup winning team in 2008-2009. They have plenty of playoff experience and that definitely will boat well for them when they get deeper into the postseason.

I would love to hear your opinions on this blog. 

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