Stanley Cup Is A Three-team Race

Henrik Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist blocks a shot against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden. AP photo

One season ago the final push of the NHL season was a daily battle for supremacy as five teams finished within four points of each other.

This year, it looks like it will be a boring limp to the post season, at least in the Eastern Conference where New York has a seven-point lead and a favorable schedule littered with more cupcakes than tea time at the Winfrey household.

Look, I realize Oprah fat jokes are old, but every once in a while I need to channel my inner Al Bundy as I ponder what Michael Bolton had to do with all this competitive apathy.

The Rangers have 81 points, and only five games combined against New Jersey and Boston. The rest of the schedule is made up of middling teams including nine against cellar dogs Buffalo, Montreal, Carolina, Colorado, Tampa Bay, and the league’s perennial doormat, the New York Islanders. The highlight of what could be a boring final six weeks in the Eastern Conference game could come March 21 when the Wings travel to New York in possible Stanley Cup Finals preview.

It would be an outstanding test pitting Detroit’s second-best scoring offense against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers’ seemingly impenetrable defense. New York’s home ice advantage could be mitigated by the return of Pavel Datsyuk to the Wings lineup.

The Western race will be closer but still not very inclusive. Detroit holds a one-point advantage over Vancouver, and St. Louis remains close with 81, but everything points to a Wings/Canuck division final. The Feb. 23 mini final between the league’s best home team and its most successful road squad further proved what we already know: The West is a two-team race.

Jimmy Howard is having his best season in net for the Wings, and the team further bolstered its blue line with the reacquisition of Kyle Quincey from Tampa Bay. The re-signing of right wing Todd Bertuzzi prior to the trading deadline secures a much-needed big body for the playoffs. Vancouver is led by the greatest set of siblings since Jeff, Steve and Jack Hanson terrorized opponents for the Charleston Chiefs. However, it is not Henrik and Daniel Sedin (who have combined for 129 points) who make the Canucks an especially difficult opponent. Vancouver is especially good at collapsing around opposing players to create turnovers and limit scoring chances. They also are dangerous on the power play, another big factor in the playoffs.

Early prediction? The Rangers are tough to score on, but the Canucks are extremely quick and not afraid to mix it up.

The wild card could be Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan. The six-year vet is second on the team in scoring and leads the team with 206 hits. Still, it won’t be enough. Vancouver over New York 4-2.