This season there are two Divisions in each Conference (Western/Eastern). The Top Three Teams in each division make the playoffs, while two wild card teams in each conference will join the party. The 2014 Season has been a very interesting one after last years work stoppage debacle. Multiple Outdoor Events with Division Rivals...some of the games even being played in the snow. The 2014 Olympics in SOCHI, where the United States brought home a Bronze after dominating most of the tournament. Of course, Sweden won the Gold Medal in a surprising win against Canada. Ok...fast forward to the past few weeks. This is where the battle and grind begins and these athletes kick their game into another level.
A few teams have been dominant all season and are on their way to the playoffs with high expectations. The Pittsburgh Penguins (50-24-5-105 Points) lead the Metropolitan Division of the East, The Boston Bruins (53-18-4-114 Points) lead the Atlantic Division of the East, The Saint Louis Blues (52-20-7-111 Points) lead the Central Division of the West, and the Anaheim Ducks (51-20-8-110 Points) lead the Pacific Division of the West. With two more games to be played, the Boston Bruins look to be the favorite to win the Presidents Trophy as the Top Regular Season Record in the NHL. In the Eastern Conference-Boston, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers and Flyers have all clinched playoff spots. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets are in good shape as the Wild Card leaders. The Western Conference-Saint Louis, Colorado, Chicago, Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Minnesota have all clinched. Dallas and Phoenix will battle for the final playoff spot.
Obviously the favorites to win the Cup are the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Saint Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks. However, there are many teams that have a chance to do some damage in the playoffs and this tournament is any teams' to win. The one team that has to be the Sleeper this season is the Philadelphia Flyers. I am not being a homer here, but instead just stating facts. The team began the season 0-3 and then were 1-7. They fired their popular head coach Peter Laviolet. Former Flyers tough guy Craig Berube took over behind the bench. At this time, the Flyers were dead last in the NHL in just about every category and had the worst record in the league.
However, since that time, the Team has went 40-22-9, which is the third best record in the NHL during that span. Flyers Team Captain and star Claude Giroux was mired in the worst slump of his career and took sixteen games to score his first goal. Giroux now has 81 Points (27 Goals/54 Assists). Claude Giroux has taken this team on his back and basically transformed a team that was dead in the water to a team that has a very legitimate chance to win the whole thing. The Flyers are the only team in the league with seven 20 Goal Scorers (Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, Vinny Lecavalier, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, and Jakub Voracek. With two games left, Matt Raffl has 18 goals and could also join this list. So with that being said, I think it is safe to say that the Flyers have the most balanced scoring going into the playoffs, with at least one 20 Goal Scorer on each line. This is huge in a seven game series.
The silver lining here is that the Flyers finally have a true Number One Goalie that has been more than consistent this season. Steve Mason has ressurected his career with a career high 33 Wins, while posting a respectable 2.48 Goals Against Average and a .917 Save Percentage with 4 Shutouts. In front of Mason, is one of the most balanced Defense Pairings that the Flyers have ever had on the ice. Luke Schenn, Mark Streit, Kimmo Timmonen, Andy McDonald (added at the trade deadline), Nick Grossman, and veteran Brayden Coburn are the most balanced defense in the league. The Flyers are tenth on the Power Play and tenth on the Penalty Kill, where you cannot get more balanced than that. The team also has Eric Gustaffson and Hal Gill on the bench for Defensive Depth going into a playoff run that always has some injuries.
When Claude Giroux was spurned by Team Canada many players and Flyers personnel were livid. Not Giroux. Claude Giroux took the absence in stride and after the Olympic Tournament he took his game to an out of this world level. Since the olympic break, Giroux has been all-world, the best player in the NHL hands down...and that is better than Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Alex Ovechkin. Giroux not only has been a leader in stats...but he has been a true leader on the ice. His presence has made the Flyers buy into coach Berube's system. The 2010 version of the Flyers made the Stanley Cup Finals. I am going out on a limb here and I will say that this version of the Flyers is even better than that team. I am so happy that the team has stayed the course and not traded away young talent. The only mistake they made was trading JVR. However, JVR got you Luke Schenn who is the bruiser on Defense they have not had since Chris Pronger.
With less than a week left in this regular season, the playoffs are just a pinch away. As I stated earlier, this tournament is anyone's to win. As always, it will be the team with the most grit, the most intensity, most heart, and best ice presence that will ultimately hoist Lord Stanley's Cup. Stay tuned for my NHL Preview, which I will provide when all of the match ups are set. As we look to the playoffs, there are still many questions to be answered. There will be many new heroes to arise during the next month. No matter what, there will be excitement for NHL fans throughout the country. I say...BRING IT ON!!!!!
In conclusion, I leave you with this question. Which team will win the Stanley Cup?