When the playoffs begin, there will be 16 teams with Stanley Cup dreams. When you break down the rosters, health and performances of those teams, however, six stand out as the heavyweights.
Pick a Stanley Cup winner from a group that includes the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks, and you can feel good about your chances. That’s not to say the Pittsburgh Penguins won’t get healthy enough to make a run or the Colorado Avalanche won’t get hot and surprise the loaded West, but it’s hard to find much wrong at all with the "Big Six."
And yet, one by one, they’re going to go down. At least, five of them will. Teams that have looked unbeatable for different stretches of the season are going to have their season end earlier than they want. Only one team can raise the Stanley Cup.
So how do you beat the best? How do you find a weakness on teams that look almost flawless as the playoffs close in? Here’s a starting point for each one:
Boston Bruins: Match their physicality
The Bruins are as well-rounded a team as there is in the game.
“They’re like a Western team,” said one GM, a major compliment this season. Four strong lines, a franchise defenseman and a goalie who should win the Vezina Trophy. So how do you beat them? Start by asking the team that does it fairly regularly.
“They’re obviously a big, strong team. They like to intimidate players. We had success against them because we haven’t let them push us around,” said Montreal’s Max Pacioretty. “A team like that, if you play afraid or you play scared, they’re going to jam it down your throats. Being able to attack them is always the game plan against them. It sounds simple, but it goes a long way against them.”
You can’t blink when their big forwards come flying in on the forecheck. The team to beat Boston will be one that has quick decision-makers on defense who don’t think twice while moving the puck out of the defensive zone. “They also don’t like being hit,” Pacioretty said. “When we’re delivering checks to them, it’s the way we want to play.”
Even that might not work. One Western Conference scout said the only way he sees the Bruins slowing down in the East is if someone gets hurt.
“You need an injury,” he said. “It doesn’t even need to be one of the big guys. They have a very nice lineup and everybody is slotted perfectly into position. Their first, second, third and fourth lines are perfectly set up. If one of those goes out it, it messes it up. If they have to move guys around, their other lines get out of whack and they struggle when that happens. Other than that, they have everything you could want.”
St. Louis Blues: Get an early lead
You’re toast if you let the Blues get into the third period with a lead. They are 33-0-4 when they lead after two periods.