With the end of the regular season just a week away, a playoff berth has become a reality for some, but a faint hope for others. Sadly enough for me, the Boston Bruins, just 3-7-0 in their last 10 games, are trending toward that latter group. With their downward spiral starting on an unsuccessful West Coast road trip where they lost all three games, the Bruins have still yet to recover and find their stride here in the home stretch where every point counts. Sitting outside of the playoff structure looking in, Boston no longer holds control over their destiny, and must rely on either the Philadelphia Flyers or Detroit Red Wings to stumble through their last several games in order to have a slim chance at the post season.
But enough about their failures. This week I wanted to focus on a couple teams I believe have a chance for a deep playoff run. To start with the obvious, there is the (best regular season record) President Trophy winning Washington Capitals. Looking at their regular season, it’s almost impossible to deny they have an excellent chance to take the Cup this year. Personally, I could definitely see this being their time. For the past several years, the Capitals have been a successful team in the regular season, but unable to get it done come playoff time. However, their organization has improved over the course of this season, with crucial changes and improvements. To start, I believe their captain, Alexander Ovechkin, is finally coming into his own as a team leader. While he has been their captain for quite a while, I never quite saw him as the guy you could always look up to and know he was giving his every last effort to help the team suceed. I think this has changed as Ovechkin continues to mature, and it shows in his team’s success and confidence at the top of the NHL. Other key factors to the team’s success are Evgeny Kuznetsov’s breakout season with a team- leading 75 points, and the additions of forward T.J. Oshie and playoff stud Justin Williams. But perhaps the most noticeable impact is by their goaltender Braden Holtby, who has had a phenomenal season with a league leading 47 wins. It seemed that last year Holtby was smacked down by fatigue come playoff time having played 73 of 82 games of the regular season. So far this season he has played a more reasonable 63, so we’ll see if he has the grit and endurance to push his team toward the Stanley Cup.
One other team I believe is peaking at the right time is the Pittsburgh Penguins. The division rivals of the Capitals have been on a tear as of late. Even without their star winger Evgeni Malkin, they are an unbelievable 9-1-0 in their last 10 games. Sidney Crosby has found his game again, and veteran winger Phil Kessel seems to be finally meshing well with the team. A major concern for their club is the injury of their top goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury. However, rookie Mathew Murray has stepped in between the pipes and even earned himself the NHL’s 3rd Star of the Week. Things are certainly looking good at the right time for the Pens. While Murray’s recent success is impressive, I do not see him carrying his team through a deep playoff run. If Fleury is out, I do believe the Penguins may find themselves in trouble early on in the playoffs.
With a couple of teams still battling for playoff spots, and those who have already clinched trying to gain home ice advantages, this upcoming week in the NHL is sure to be exciting.