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THN.com Blog: Contender questions opens door for Cinderellas

Blackhawks goalie Cristobal Huet is replaced by Antti Niemi during a game against the Red Wings March 7. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Blackhawks goalie Cristobal Huet is replaced by Antti Niemi during a game against the Red Wings March 7. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The NHL playoffs are never hard to get excited about, but when you inject the fallibility factor into this year’s pending series of best-of-seven showdowns, the layers of intrigue multiply like San Jose springtime failures.
 
Historically speaking, prod any team hard enough and you’re bound to turn up some warts. But this season is a bit exceptional in the NHL in that every squad that would be deemed a major contender is also contending with issues that could land them on the tee blocks well before they wanted to trade helmets for hats.
 
In the West, Chicago and San Jose will likely occupy the top two seeds when the big derby starts. How long will it take for Antti Niemi or Cristobal Huet to allow a goal that causes everybody in the Windy City to exclaim, ‘Just give me the pads; I’ll do it myself!’
 
The Sharks’ struggles in the post-season are only slightly less documented than things like extracurricular activities of Tiger Woods or the Vietnam War. The hump they’re trying to get over would make Mount Everest look like the prairies and until they do, questions will linger and prompt the pointing of fingers.
 
On the other coast, Washington and Pittsburgh are the class of the East, but also come with their own set of shortcomings.
 
The sheer volume of games played by the Pens while competing in back-to-back finals has to be of some kind of concern, while the Caps’ potential crisis shares a similar shaky-goaltending theme with the Hawks.
 
As those with vested interests in the success of the aforementioned clubs toss and turn, the rest of us can revel in the fact there’s a seam for some other teams to exploit – which greatly ups the entertainment ante.
 
Maybe one of those squads is Vancouver, which emits a siren call every spring that I have foolishly been sucked in by in years past…and fully intend on being allured by again.
 
It’s the goaltending; that deep forward crew; they can overcome a ramshackle defense!
 
Everybody talks about what a rough draw the Red Wings would be for a top team in Round 1, but how about the Calgary Flames? At times this season they’ve looked as bad as Alberta’s other team, but also have the genetic makeup to break with precedent and finally see second round action for the first time since making the Cup final in 2004.
 
In the East, New Jersey and Buffalo have been scuffling for a couple of months now, but each have elements that make them a less-than-desirable playoff foe.
 
They’re called Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur.
 
OK, so Marty hasn’t been Marty lately, but he’s fully capable of finding himself in time to take out a top seed or two. Miller has been the best stopper in the league – and the Olympics – this season, which is one heck of a trump card for any team to enter a series with.
 
What about the suddenly healthy Montreal Canadiens? The high-end talent of the Philadelphia Flyers?
 
There are a number of teams that wouldn’t warrant a lot of faith on their own merits, but account for some throbbing Achilles’ heels at the top of the league and all of a sudden the popular throwaway refrain of ‘anything can happen’ starts to gain a little more traction.

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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
 

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