Mid-April — a hockey fan’s favorite time of the year — means it’s time for the Stanley Cup playoffs. The field of 32 has been narrowed down to 16, and any one of these teams has a shot at the Cup. More than any other sport, the NHL playoffs are seemingly unpredictable. It is vital for a team to have momentum going into the playoffs. A lower-seeded team can easily dismantle a powerhouse if they catch fire in the playoffs — take the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings, for example. Here are some teams that are entering this year’s playoffs hot, and some who are going in cold.
Ottawa Senators: Hot. The Senators are the surprise team going into the playoffs. Just a few months ago, the Sens were 22-23-10, well on their way to a lottery pick. But then, out of nowhere, came the Hamburglar. Goalie Andrew Hammond has stolen the show for Ottawa, going an astounding 20-1-2 in his past 23 games. If they continue this level of play, Hammond and the Sens will not be fun to play for their first round opponent.
New York Islanders: Cold. The Isles had a great first half of the season, spending most of it in first place atop the Metro. Since the All-Star break, however, the Islanders just have not been the same team. Injuries to Kyle Okposo and Mikhail Grabovski have hurt their offensive depth, forcing them to rely heavily on John Tavares. Meanwhile, their already-poor defensive depth has been exposed. Hopefully, they can turn it around to send the Nassau Coliseum off in style in its final year, but their chances do not look promising.
Minnesota Wild: Hot. A few months ago, the Wild were in a very similar situation to the Senators. They were last in the Central Division and in desperate need of goaltending help. Then, they traded for Devan Dubnyk and immediately went on a tear, going 28-10-3 since Jan. 15. Thanks to Dubnyk, the Wild will be a tough out once the playoffs begin.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Cold. Like the Islanders, the Penguins had a great first half of the season. Many people actually thought for the first few months of the year that the Isles and Pens would run away with the division. Pittsburgh has been absolutely plagued by injuries all season, and the news keeps getting worse: Kris Letang is now out for the season. With Evgeni Malkin still battling nagging injuries, the Pens have to rely on Sidney Crosby to carry them through the playoffs.
New York Rangers: Hot. To round out the group, we’ll go with the team who won the Presidents’ Trophy this season. The Rangers started the season 11-10-4, and many thought that they would struggle one year after losing in the Stanley Cup Final. However, since that point they have been on fire, going 42-12-3 to conclude the season. They survived — and excelled — during a long stretch without Henrik Lundqvist. Right now, they look like the team to beat. But who knows, if they run into another hot team like the Senators, they might be given a run for their money.