Daily Herald
Eight serious contenders to consider for Stanley Cup
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 4/13/2010 2:41 PM

Who's going to win the Stanley Cup?

Maybe the best way to answer that question is to say who is not capable of doing it. Boston, Buffalo, Colorado, Los Angeles, Montreal, Nashville, Ottawa and Philadelphia don't have a chance.

That leaves eight serious contenders, including the Blackhawks.

A number of things need to fall into place for the Hawks to end the NHL's longest Stanley Cup drought at 49 years.

Antti Niemi must remain physically and mentally strong for the next two months. The Hawks need to stay healthy. The power play has to be a factor. And this group is going to have to prove they can beat Detroit when it counts.

There's a chance the Hawks won't see the Red Wings again, but there's a better chance they will.

Here's a breakdown by their seed of the 16 teams that have qualified for hockey's greatest tournament.

Western Conference

No. 1 San Jose Sharks

Why they can win: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley can be a dominating line.

Why they won't: Thornton has been an annual playoff bust.

Question mark: Can the Sharks finally crank their game to playoff levels when it counts?

Goaltending: Evgeni Nabokov has yet to rise to the occasion in playoffs.

Prediction: Out in conference finals.

No. 2 Blackhawks

Why they can win: Outstanding depth, speed and skill, and the best puck possession game in the NHL.

Why they won't: Goalie Antti Niemi is inexperienced and the power play is way to inconsistent.

Question mark: Will injured defenseman Brian Campbell return sooner than later?

Goaltending: Niemi never has appeared in a playoff game while Cristobal Huet hasn't even seen a shot since March 25.

Prediction: Stanley Cup Finals.

No. 3 Vancouver Canucks

Why they can win: Roberto Luongo in goal and dangerous first line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows.

Why they won't: Luongo has struggled down the stretch in front of an inconsistent defense.

Question mark: Is there enough secondary scoring behind Sedin line?

Goaltending: The Canucks will go as far as Luongo takes them.

Prediction: Out in the first round.

No. 4 Phoenix Coyotes

Why they can win: The Coyotes are one of the hardest-working teams in the league and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is a difference maker.

Why they won't: A bad luck of the draw, getting Detroit in first round.

Question mark: Can the Coyotes score enough goals?

Goaltending: There isn't a team in the West with someone better than Bryzgalov.

Prediction: Out in the first round.

No. 5 Detroit Red Wings

Why they can win: All kinds of playoff experience, game-breakers in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and Nicklas Lidstrom on defense.

Why they won't: A lack of secondary scoring.

Question mark: Can red-hot rookie goalie Jimmy Howard keep it going?

Goaltending: While the 26-year-old Howard has no playoff experience, Chris Osgood has plenty if needed.

Prediction: Out in the second round.

No. 6 Los Angeles Kings

Why they can win: Balanced scoring and the NHL's fifth-best power play.

Why they won't: The Kings haven't played well since the Olympic break and have appeared tired.

Question mark: Can 20-year-old star defenseman Drew Doughty and center Anze Kopitar be difference makers?

Goaltending: Jonathan Quick played in 72 games and faded in the stretch.

Prediction: Out in the second round.

No. 7 Nashville Predators

Why they can win: Strong team defense and an underrated goalie in Pekka Rinne.

Why they won't: The Predators are 0-10 all-time on the road in the playoffs and finished with the third-worst penalty killing in the league.

Question mark: Who is going to score the big goals at critical times?

Goaltending: When Rinne is on he can be very good.

Prediction: Out in the first round.

No. 8 Colorado Avalanche

Why they can win: Craig Anderson has been one of the best goaltenders since the start of the NHL season.

Why they won't: The Avs' defense isn't quick and has trouble against a strong forecheck.

Question mark: Will scorers Peter Mueller (concussion) and Matt Duchene (torso) be healthy?

Goaltending: The Avs should worry that Anderson's huge workload (71 games) has caught up with him.

Prediction: Out in the first round.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Washington Capitals

Why they can win: The most explosive offense in the league led by Alex Ovechkin.

Why they won't: As good as the Caps are offensively, they surrender a lot of shots and have so-so goaltending.

Question mark: So who's the goalie, Jose Theodore or Semyon Varlamov?

Goaltending: Theodore is a former MVP, but can he win a Cup?

Prediction: Out in the second round.

No. 2 New Jersey Devils

Why they can win: Two big scoring lines featuring Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk to support Martin Brodeur in goal.

Why they won't: Brodeur isn't as dominating as he once was and defensive depth should be a worry.

Question mark: How can a power play with Kovalchuk and Parise be so inconsistent?

Goaltending: Brodeur wasn't as overworked as in years past, which is good news for the Devils.

Prediction: Out in conference finals.

No. 3 Buffalo Sabres

Why they can win: No goalie has had a better season than Ryan Miller.

Why they won't: There are no difference-making game-breakers on offense or defense.

Question mark: How is rookie defenseman Tyler Myers going to respond in his first playoffs?

Goaltending: Miller gives the Sabres a chance to win every night.

Prediction: Out in the second round.

No. 4. Pittsburgh Penguins

How they can win: Dominate games down the middle with centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

Why they won't: The Pens don't have as much depth on D and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been just OK.

Question mark: Can Malkin return to dominating form?

Goaltending: Fleury has a history as a big-game goalie so don't count him out.

Prediction: Stanley Cup Finals.

No. 5 Ottawa Senators

How they can win: Sneak up on people like they have all season.

Why they won't: Goalie Brian Elliott is untested.

Question mark: Can the Senators make up for the loss of Alex Kovalev, out for the year with a torn ACL?

Goaltending: Elliott has had a very good season, but the playoffs are a different animal.

Prediction: Out in the first round.

No. 6 Boston Bruins

How they can win: The Bruins must get great goaltending to overcome a mediocre offense.

Why they won't: There just isn't enough offense here anymore.

Question mark: Is playmaking center Marc Savard (concussion) done for the year?

Goaltending: Pressure is on playoff inexperienced Tuukka Rask, who apparently has unseated Tim Thomas.

Prediction: Out in the first round.

No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers

How they can win: Use NHL's third-best power play to outscore people.

Why they won't: The Flyers have no chance to advance with Brian Boucher in goal.

Question mark: When will Daniel Carcillo take his first bad penalty?

Goaltending: With Ray Emery and Michael Leighton hurt, 33-year-old journeyman Boucher has all the pressure on his shoulders.

Prediction: Out in the first round.

No. 8 Montreal Canadiens

How they can win: Get great goaltending from Jaroslav Halak.

Why they won't: The Canadiens are skilled but too small.

Question mark: Can the second-ranked power play make a difference when it counts?

Goaltending: Halak is the clear-cut No. 1 guy, but there's always Carey Price to fall back on.

Prediction: Out in the first round.