Written by Joseph Hubbs & Media by Mikey Ward.
Late in January, hockey fans began to wonder if they would even see any NHL action in 2013. More than 2 months after when the season was supposed to start on October 1, 2012, the owners and the National Hockey League Players’ Association still hadn’t come to an agreement. Finally, both sides came to an agreement the lockout ended, allowing games to begin on January 19. Much like the 1994-95 NHL season, each team would only play 48 games instead of the original 82. However, fans would not have to suffer from empty-ice syndrome, because the shortened season made every game even more meaningful, and the players didn’t hold back this year, setting records and milestones. Now, the regular season ends in a couple of days. Some teams have absolutely smashed their way into the playoffs. Others have a chance of squeaking by. The last couple of days of such a shortened season have explicit meaning. So who is going to have the biggest impact in the playoffs and how did they get to this point? What happened to the Red Wings this year, and where did the reign of the Blackhawks emerge from? Let’s take a look at what made this NHL season so memorable, and so intense.
Due to the lockout, interest in hockey diminished significantly before the season’s late start. One team brought interest back into the sport with their outstanding tear into the season. The Chicago Blackhawks spun heads with a record breaking 17 straight games with a point. They seemed almost unbeatable and extended this streak to a new record 24 game point streak. At the same time, Blackhawks goaltender commanded the net, starting 12 straight games with a win, the first in the history of the NHL to do so. Early on, fans compared the dominance of Chicago’s hockey team to that of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Sports fans who know nothing about hockey even noticed this, and avid hockey fans swarmed back to the scene to see if their team could dethrone the mighty Blackhawks.
Eventually the Blackhawks would suffer a game without a point, but they had saved hockey in 2013. Throughout the season, a couple of other teams made their presence felt across the league. The Anaheim Ducks even caused the Blackhawks a little trouble, and for a while they only stood a point behind the Hawks for first. In the Eastern Conference, nobody could catch the Pittsburgh Penguins all season. For a short period of time they even had caught up with the Blackhawks and tied for the points title. As of now, the Hawks still have a five point lead on the Penguins for the President’s Trophy.
The Blackhawks and Penguins sit atop each of their conferences respectively, looking down menacingly on whoever has the misfortune to compete against them in the first couple of rounds. Both teams have skated away with their conference titles, never looking back. For the eastern conference, four other teams have already clinched a spot including Boston, Washington, Montreal, and Toronto. For the most part the Islanders, Senators, and Rangers also have a sealed place in the East, but the seeds still aren’t determined, and Winnipeg still has an outside chance in taking one of the spots away. The Western Conference is a whole different animal. The Ducks, Canucks, and Kings all clinched a spot fairly early, and the Blues and still have a battle ahead of them to see who gets the 5th and 6th seed. However, the back end of the West is having quite the frenzy over which team will take the final two spots. Minnesota has played phenomenally at home this season, and it looks as if they should hold on to the seventh spot, but four teams could possibly steal the eighth seed, as only one to four points separates them. Currently, the Blue Jackets hold the spot and it don’t look to let up, with a 7-3 record in their last 10 going into their next match-up. Dallas remains two points behind the Blue Jackets, but do not look as if they can push ahead.
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The most interesting struggle of the season remains to be the Detroit Redwings. Year after year, you could consistently bet on the Redwings making a run in the playoffs, but after a disappointing season, the Redwings have faltered to the 9th seed in the West. They only need one point to catch up with Columbus, but going into this week they have played terrible hockey, with below standard NHL defense. With only three wins in their last ten contests, it looks like their 21 year streak of making the playoffs is at its close. The hole that Mr. Perfect, Niklas Lindstrom, left in the Redwings defense after retiring could take a while to fill, and fans wonder if this marks the end of an NHL reign.
Looking at which teams are going to make the biggest playoff runs you have to consider the Penguins and the Blackhawks as the front runners for the Stanley Cup. Both teams dominated their conference all season and there is no reason as to why they would let up now. Now, there are a few teams that you don’t want to sleep on such as the Boston Bruins, who play hard nose, old- school style hockey designed to smash in the post season. After the recent events in Boston, they are playing with even more pride, and a chip on their shoulder heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Another team that could surprise us is the reigning champions, the Los Angeles Kings. Like we learned last year, Jonathan Quick can get hot at any moment, helping the Kings win the Cup as an eight seed, so anything can happen. Look for a lot of excitement in this year’s playoff run.