(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For $50, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Meg.)
If there’s one state that represents the single greatest threat to the hockey world when it comes to capturing the Stanley Cup, it is the one that’s hot and sunny but where people actually also go to games a lot.
That’s right, dawg, we’re talking about California, where the three resident teams currently sit ranked Nos. 2, 7, and 8 in the NHL. This despite the fact that they have to play each other more often than other teams do — the Pacific a meatgrinder of a division if ever there was one — and my general belief that unlike the Avalanche, currently occupying sixth in the entire NHL against all logic, these are all relatively good teams.
Of course, the fact that six of the eight best teams in the league play in the Western Conference means there is going to be some amount of cannibalizing of higher-quality teams in the playoffs through seven-game wars of attrition, while the Bruins and Penguins waltz to another Eastern Conference Final because the next- best team on that side of the continent is, according to the standings, the Toronto friggin’ Maple Leafs.
The Anaheim Ducks, by the way, are the best team in California right now if you go by the standings, but probably the one of the three you’d most like to play in the postseason. They have little in the way of depth up front or on defense, and their goaltending is good but not great; they are very much outperforming their underlying numbers. San Jose and Los Angeles, on the other hand, are dealing with some struggles — if you want to call them that when you have 89 and 82 points in 65 and 66 games played, respectively — or have already done so, and the Kings in particular seem poised to run around the Western Conference playoffs like Sting against the nWo circa 1997.
You have to think the Blackhawks, especially with the coming addition of Teuvo Teravainen, are the team to beat not only in the West, but the entire league. With that having been said, the road to the Cup Final almost certainly runs through at least one and probably two of these Californian giants and that has to be a terrifying prospect, especially with Corey Crawford between the pipes. Jonathan Quick can steal a series. Antti Niemi can steal a series. Crawford probably can’t.
It’s a shame that one of these three teams will be eliminated after the first round thanks to the NHL’s idiotic new playoff system, because having them plus the Blackhawks playing in the Conference Semifinals would be just about the best thing you could ask for. Hockey in California, and the NHL itself, will be poorer for having lost one so soon. (Let’s hope it’s the Ducks though).
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