When you look at the Eastern Conference, it’s easy to say who the
best teams in the conference are. The Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh
Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres are all firmly entrenched
on a tier well above the rest of the Eastern teams.
Yet when it comes to the West, that’s a tougher nut to crack. Just a
few months back you could say it was San Jose, Colorado, Chicago, Los
Angeles…..but now? The Blackhawks and the Avalanche are stumbling, the
Kings are showing their youth and inexperience and the Sharks are just
now starting to again. So which teams would be the ones to look out for
the most once the playoffs start?
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is unsure himself, per
Dana Wakiji of The Detroit News:
“I think Chicago’s (99 points before hosting Columbus on
Sunday) probably the best team in the West, but San Jose might be,”
“I guess that’s what I’m trying to say is I don’t
know if you interview 10 people if they’d all give you the same three.
That’s how tight the league is now and obviously with our experience,
if we can get into the tournament, we feel we have a chance.”
Babcock is obviously playing coy here. There’s no doubt that the Red
Wings are playing the best overall hockey in the West right now (perhaps
in the NHL), and as this veteran and experienced team gears up for the
playoffs they are perhaps the one team that nobody wants to face. The
Red Wings have a great chance to move up as high as fifth in the
conference, and could even threaten the Blackhawks for the division
That such a thing is even possible, after such a slow
start, is remarkable.
There’s still a long way to go before we
call this season a complete comeback. Jimmy Howard could fall apart in
the playoffs and the Red Wings head for an early, first round exit. Or
we could see Detroit threatening for yet another — it’s not fair! —
Stanley Cup. Either outcome wouldn’t surprise me.