October 16, 2011

From NEHJ: Top 10 challengers to the Cup

By Jesse Connolly

The Bruins will look to become the first NHL team to win back-to-back championships since Detroit captured the Stanley Cup in both 1997 and 1998. NEHJ writer Jesse Connolly ranks the squads with the best chance of keeping the Bruins from repeating this season: 

Led by Sidney Crosby (left) and Alex Ovechkin, the Penguins and Capitals will make repeating quite the chore for the B's. (Getty)

Led by Sidney Crosby (left) and Alex Ovechkin, the Penguins and Capitals will make repeating quite the chore for the B's. (Getty)

1. Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin and the offensively-potent Caps have the firepower to give even the most defensively-sound teams like the Bruins fits. Now that they have a legitimate goalie in Tomas Vokoun (.930 career save percentage vs. Boston), this might be the year they finally get over the hump and go the distance.

2. Vancouver Canucks
Roberto Luongo may have faltered on the big stage, but the Canucks still boast arguably the most talented lineup in the NHL. Powered by dynamite offensive talent in Ryan Kesler and Henrik and Daniel Sedin, expecting the Bruins to be able to shut them all down again in a rematch might be a stretch.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby promises to be back at some point this season. With rock-solid netminder Marc-Andre Fleury and a forward corps that includes Jordan Staal and a now-healthy Evgeni Malkin, the Bruins would have their hands full trying to keep all of the Penguins’ stars in check in a seven-game series.

4. San Jose Sharks
Thanks to the acquisitions of Martin Havlat and underrated defenseman Brent Burns, the ever-disappointing Sharks are more balanced. With Cup winner Antti Niemi between the pipes and former Bruin Joe Thornton coming off the best postseason of his career, San Jose has few flaws the Bruins or any other team could expose.

5. Philadelphia Flyers
While Mike Richards and Jeff Carter may be gone, Bruins killer Danny Briere and budding stars Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk ­— along with Jaromir Jagr — can make up for their lost production. The Bruins had their way with Philly’s netminders last season, but newcomer Ilya Bryzgalov will pose a considerably bigger challenge.

6. Detroit Red Wings
For those that thought Boston couldn’t win it all last season, the Bruins’ two games against Detroit were Exhibits A and B. The Wings embarrassed the Bruins, skating circles around them en route to lopsided victories. Bad news: The lethal trio of Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg hasn’t gone anywhere.

7. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bruins did a tremendous job of shutting down opposing offenses in the playoffs, save for their series with Tampa. Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steve Stamkos have torched Boston their entire careers. With ageless wonder Dwayne Roloson in net, the Bolts remain very dangerous.

8. Montreal Canadiens
Did any team give the Bruins a better run for their money in the playoffs? Carey Price’s career is back on track. P.K. Subban’s officially is ready for takeoff. With Montreal still employing a ton of small, speedy forwards, which has a kryptonite-like effect on the Bruins, getting past the Habs won’t be easy.

9. New York Rangers
Even if the NHL switched from pucks to bouncy balls, the Bruins would probably still have trouble putting anything past goalie Henrik Lundqvist. With Brad Richards now in the Big Apple and a bounce-back season from Marian Gaborik expected, the Blueshirts easily could reel off a first-round upset against Boston.

10. Chicago Blackhawks
The 2010 Stanley Cup winners followed their championship by finishing eighth in the West, but did push Vancouver to overtime of Game 7 in the first round. Scoring sensations Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa will give Chicago a puncher’s chance, as will goalie Corey Crawford, who’s coming off a sensational rookie year.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal. He can be reached atjconnolly@hockeyjournal.com