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West loaded with top teams

The National Hockey League only has two weeks until the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the balance of power is certainly uneven.

Yes, the Eastern Conference has the Washington Capitals, a squad that is one of the best in recent memory and the certain wins of the President’s Trophy. However, the rest of the East is comprised of teams with abundant flaws. The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins are both quality challengers for the Cup, but teams which have both been susceptible to prolonged stretches of poor play.

Meanwhile, the West looks to have at least four legitimate contenders to raise Lord Stanley. The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending champions and have been struggling lately, but don’t be fooled. With Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford on the roster, Chicago is still a threat. The Blackhawks have been in a slide lately, but Chicago will come out of the funk in time for the second season.

Then there are the Dallas Stars, led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Dallas has been overlooked and underrated for much of the campaign but with 97 points, is tied for the Central Division lead alongside the St. Louis Blues. The Stars have firepower that can match anybody in the league and a quality group on the blue line.

Speaking of St. Louis, this is one of the dark horse teams going into the playoffs. The Blues have not had much postseason success in recent years, failing to win a game past the first round of the playoffs since 2001-02. Under head coach Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis has enjoyed tremendous regular seasons but had nothing to show for its effort in April and May. Perhaps behind the sublime play of Vladimir Tarasenko things will be different in 2016.

Over in the Pacific Division, both the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are lethal. Los Angeles has won two Stanley Cups in the last four seasons and are led by a quality back end. Goaltender Jonathan Quick is one of the best in the league while defenseman Drew Doughty is consistently mentioned among Norris Trophy contenders.

Anaheim got off to a rancid start this season, with folks wondering if the Ducks were nothing more than a mirage after being called Cup favorites. However, they have bounced back in a major way. Anaheim will likely draw the San Jose Sharks in the first round, with the Ducks being the favorites to move on. We can all root for a Ducks-Kings second round matchup.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are going to give us a huge favorite in the East and a group of five quality teams in the West (six if you include the Sharks). Look for a fascinating spring.

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