Second Half Cinderellas
These three teams could surprise you
Teams to Watch
What’s Happening: March Madness is generally reserved for NCAA Basketball, and for good reason. That tournament has produced its fair share of cinderellas. From 10-seed Davidson going to the Elite Eight in 2008 on the back of Steph Curry, to 11-seed George Mason going to the Final Four two years earlier, Cinderella makes regular appearances.
From time to time, Cinderella visits the NHL as well. The ‘03 Mighty Ducks, ‘05 Flames, and ‘06 Oilers are some of the best underdog stories of recent memory. And while the champion may not be crowned in March like in the NCAA, the foundations are certainly set. With the March 21 trade deadline fast approaching, the groundwork for the next Cinderella is well underway.
In the Eastern Conference, the contenders have made themselves known. Unless there’s a Davidson among them, the playoff teams are essentially already set. Out West, there’s a little more uncertainty. Let’s look at which under-the-radar teams have the potential to make a run this spring.
A team with the two best players in the world as a Cinderella? Sure, but have you seen the team play? The Oilers recent rut stretches deep, but they are showing signs of pulling out of it, giong 5-4-1 in their last 10. With the controversial signing of Evander Kane helping on the ice and the return to health of goaltender Mike Smith, good fortunes should continue.
At the deadline, GM Ken Holland needs to help shore up the blueline — which does a lot except play defense — and work on the overall team defense, which ranks 14th. With all that turmoil, the Oilers sit only six points back of third spot in the Pacific with six games in hand. And if they get in, they have the two best players in the world in a weaker than expected Western Conference.
2006 wasn’t so long ago, after all.
The Wild are perpetually not talked about while they have solid yet unspectacular teams. Well, this year’s squad has a bit of spectacular, and we should start to take notice. Their un-Minnesota-like flash and dash consists mainly of Kirill Kaprizon (53 pts in 40 games), Mats Zuccarello (42 pts in 35 games) and all-star goaltending from Cam Talbot. The Wild’s staple has always been preventing goals, and they’re getting it done there, too, ranking 5th in the NHL in team defense. They’re nine points back of Colorado for the Western Conference lead and have three games in hand. With only three losses in regulation in St. Paul, they could be scary with home ice come playoff time.
Let’s start talking about the Wild.
Okay, Cinderella and the Bruins don’t exactly go hand in hand, but this isn’t your typical Bruins club. They’ve lost David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, depth on the blue line, and Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are a year older. And that’s what makes this the perfect storm. Bergeron and Marchand are still elite, Tuuka Rask is back, and the Bruins with a chip on their shoulder is a team no one wants to play. Florida, Tampa, and Toronto get all the attention in the Atlantic, but the Bruins are right there, with games in hand. Don’t discount the Bs.
The Long Shot
The Oilers made the Cup Final in 2006 as an eight seed, proving that you do just have to get in. This year’s long shot could be the Dallas Stars.
It’s been a turbulent season for the Stars, but they sit just four points out of the final wild card position. Going 15-6-1 at home so far, they’re real struggles are on the road, where they have a 8-12-1 record. With 21 of their remaining 39 games outside of Texas, if they can get it going away from home, they have a shot, which is all Cinderella asks for.
Much of this depends on what they decide to do with Klingberg — to trade him or not to trade him — but if they decide they are in, they could pose a challenge in the West.
Links from the Rink
Best Cinderella Stories: Check out the 13-best underdog runs in NHL history
Hey Now, You’re an All Star: Takeaways from a weekend in Vegas
Going for Gold: Women’s Olympic Hockey Preview
Boo Birds: Tom Wilson Called it at the All-Star game