Here are the teams I think have a shot at making an unexpected run in the playoffs.
SOG: 194 | +/-: -6
You can sum up why the Capitals are so dangerous in one word: talent. Washington's lineup just scares you. You look at that lineup and you wonder how they're playing for seventh. If coach Dale Hunter can get them going in the last 10 games, get the power play going a little bit and maybe they make a little trade at the deadline, they will be a very scary team. What's more, I like Ovechkin's game right now. He's flying, he's getting his chances and he's passing the puck. They're going to need great goaltending, but they've been getting the goaltending most of the time lately. If I'm the Rangers or Boston, I hope they finish third. I don't want to see them in the first round.
SOG: 117 | +/-: -6
I think you have to put Pittsburgh in that mix, too, particularly with the way Evgeni Malkin has played, but even as a lower seed I don't think the Penguins would surprise anyone as a team that can make a run. If I'm looking at the top six teams in the East, the Rangers and Boston are easily the top two, but after that I might put New Jersey right there. They're a dangerous team.
Chicago Blackhawks: I'm not too worried about Chicago. I know they're bad right now but they're like Washington. They're just too good and too talented, and I think Joel Quenneville will get them straightened out. Even with their current losing streak they won't keep losing like this the rest of the season. They'll be on the upswing come playoff time and that's what the coaches are selling in the locker room. They're saying this is the best thing that's going to happen to them. They're going to find out who they are and find out more about their team by going through a tough stretch. That's what Chicago is saying behind the scenes, and this is a team that could easily turn it around, go 13-3 in the last 16 games and be hot come playoff time. I don't know that they'll be able to pick up ground on Nashville or St. Louis, but I do think they'll be in a good position to make a run with a first-round matchup against San Jose.
Because the Central is so good, San Jose is probably going to wind up facing Chicago, Nashville or St. Louis in the first round -- right now the Blackhawks are the likely opponent -- and I don't think any of those teams is a good matchup for the Sharks. After all these seasons, I just have a tough time believing in San Jose. Chicago is so talented they'll cause some problems, Nashville is rock solid -- they get a point every night -- and St. Louis is great. There's no reason to think 7 or 8 can beat the teams above them, but the sixth team will be a dangerous one come playoff time, and if it's Chicago, San Jose and the rest of the Western Conference elite should be worried.
St. Louis Blues: I think St. Louis is a team nobody is talking about. Their home record is unbelievable, and they're built for the playoffs with their size, physical presence and their goaltending. The impact Ken Hitchcock has had on this team since he took over is really just unbelievable. Nashville is similar, but I think St. Louis is a better team and while everyone respects them, I don't think anyone really fears them.
The rest of the West ought to though. They are a tough defensive team, and the Blues are definitely capable of beating Detroit, Vancouver or Chicago in a seven-game series. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see them playing for the Stanley Cup in June.