As summer approaches, the coldest game on Earth is at its best. The dream of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup is ever so close for the 16 teams that are about to do battle. Over the next two months, the NHL's greatest will be on full display, showcasing their lightning speed and devastating hits. After all of the blood, sweat, tears and occasional fights, we'll have a deserving champion to cap off the NHL season.
Winning a race to the puck or a battle in the corner could be the difference between victory and elimination. After an 82-game season (plus the Olympics for some), S+C and mental toughness are what make a champion. Celebrating STACK's featured hockey players in this year's playoffs, we put together our pick to take home the Stanley Cup.
Chicago Blackhawks – Duncan Keith (D)
Keith is one of the premier shutdown defensemen in the league, but he's not afraid to step up in the offensive zone. He gives credit to his total body fitness, aided by Doug Crashley, president and director of athletic performance at Crash Conditioning.
Why they'll win: The Blackhawks have a young team, with stud forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews leading the attack, along with Keith and his partner, Brent Seabrook, shoring things up on the blue line.
Why they'll lose: They're young and have little playoff experience compared to other Western Conference foes.
Washington Capitals – Mike Green (D)
Green has become one of the NHL's most dynamic defensemen on one of its most exciting teams. A constant threat from the blue line, he has scored more points than any other defenseman over the past two seasons. Another disciple of Crash Conditioning, Green focuses his training program on increasing athleticism to prepare him for the rigors of a long season.
Why they'll win: The Capitals have endless offensive talent, featuring Alexander Ovechkin, the league's most prolific scorer.
Why they'll lose: Results have been inconsistent in the past. Can they finally get by Sidney Crosby and the Penguins?
New Jersey Devils – Martin Brodeur (G), Paul Martin (D)
Martin Brodeur is the primary reason why the Devils are perennially among the NHL's elite. He now owns almost every goalie record in the book. To maintain flexibility for his acrobatic saves, he practices yoga during the off-season. Brodeur's teammate, Paul Martin, helps protect him from scoring threats. Martin believes the life lessons he learned from his parents are what best prepared him for the intensity of playoff hockey.
Why they'll win: The team is well-rounded, and it has the ability to shut down opponents defensively without sacrificing offense.
Why they'll lose: Brodeur has had some recent high-profile woes, which were on full display during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
San Jose Sharks – Joe Thornton (C)
Arguably the best playmaker in the NHL, Thornton loves to set up goal scorers Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. He has an uncanny ability to make the "impossible" pass and to find his line-mates lurking in front of the net. Thornton highly values his pre-game prep, which allows him to perform at his best in every game.
Why they'll win: Since Thornton's arrival, the Sharks have consistently been at the top of the Western Conference, so they're due to make a breakthrough in the playoffs.
Why they'll lose: The Sharks have a woeful playoff history.
Boston Bruins – Milan Lucic (W)
Lucic's power forward style has made him a fan favorite in Boston. He puts points on the board while terrifying opponents with brutal hits. He places a high value on team leadership, emphasizing the need to work together toward a common goal.
Why they'll win: The team's goalie tandem—rookie Tuukka Rask and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas—is the best in the league.
Why they'll lose: Their scoring prowess took a big hit with the pre-season departure of Phil Kessel and the injury to talented center Marc Savard.
Buffalo Sabres – Thomas Vanek (W)
This former University of Minnesota standout, one of the best forwards in the NHL, has an uncanny ability to make the puck find the back of the net. His natural scoring talent should help the Sabres achieve their goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
Why they'll win: Two words: Ryan Miller.
Why they'll lose: The Sabres are not deep enough to hold off other top playoff contenders.
STACK's Finals Prediction:
Chicago Blackhawks versus Washington Capitals
Stopping either of these juggernauts on their journey to the finals will prove to be a Herculean task. Keith and Green, both of whom train at Crash Conditioning, will experience competing against a good friend at the highest level. However, no friendship will stop these teams from giving every last drop of energy during their quest for the Cup.
STACK's Stanley Cup Champion:
Green and Ovechkin will be too much to handle for the young Blackhawks. The Capitals have goal scorers throughout their lineup, and they can control the game with offensive pressure. Look for a competitive series with the Caps winning in six games.
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