With the dust settling on the end of a wonderful 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, all eyes will focus back on the NHL and the exciting race for the Stanley Cup Play-Offs. The recent Olympics followed the tradition of providing wonderful stories and shock results as Russia came out on top of the medal standings, with many other countries showing their pedigree across the multitude of events that make up the Winter Olympics. Cam Fowler, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonas Hiller and Sami Vatanen are to name but a few NHL stars who featured in Sochi, with Getzlaf being part of the Canadian team who won gold in the Final against Sweden. Their attention now turns to domestic ice hockey in a regular season who looks set to be one of the closest in modern NHL history, with those who want to bet on NHL games finding it difficult to call a winner and predict who will go all the way to lift the Stanley Cup. There can no doubt that every team will fight and scrap their way into contention for a Play-Off stop, with undoubted passion and commitment from every player often boiling over on the rink as a sign of how much making it to the Stanley Cup Final means to them.
Stars of the 2013-2014 season
Any review of the current NHL season would be remiss without talking about the wonderful achievements of Nathan MacKinnon who, in his first rookie season for the Colorado Avalanche, could reach over 30 goals. His goals record in the current calendar year has been outstanding, and the 22-year-old could be set to follow in the footsteps of legendary Avalanche right winger Milan Hedjuk who has recently retired from the sport. Head coach Patrick Roy could be willing to keep providing MacKinnon with a starring role in the roster alongside Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene who have also made an invaluable contribution to the cause.
Alan Vigneault should remain grateful that he has one of the best goaltenders in the NHL on his New York Rangers roster. Henrik Lundqvist remains at the top of his game, and at the age of 31 has many more years left in him to perform at the highest level. Lundqvist is one of the main reasons behind the Rangers’ resurgent form which has put them well in contention in the wildcard race for the Stanley Cup Play-Offs.
Leading the goal-scoring charts is something that has almost become second nature to Alex Ovechkin who continues to find the net with regular ease for the Washington Capitals. Head coach Adam Oates must pray every day that his star player does not succumb to injury as his team strives to battle through the wildcard field.
Stanley Cup Contenders
Defending their title may be more than possible for Joel Quenneville and the Chicago Blackhawks. Triumphant in the 2012-2013 season, the Blackhawks have started where they left off and are perfectly placed in the Central division to make a push for the title and secure a Play-Off spot. The serious injury sustained to Steven Stamkos in early November has not derailed the Tampa Bay Lightning who continue to look impressive in the Atlantic division under John Cooper. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks are currently top of the Eastern and Western conference respectively; with both looking perfectly set to qualify for the Play-Offs. A potential outside shot for the Stanley Cup are the Los Angeles Kings who, under Darryl Sutter, look strong in every department and know what it takes to win the illustrious trophy. The same team as 2012 has more than enough quality to seal a Play-Off spot, although a slight injury to Alec Martinez may come as an untimely blow for the Kings.