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Who will play in this season's Stanley Cup?

Wings' last shot at glory

Helene Elliott

Los Angeles Times

The cardinal rule of NHL forecasting is never pick the San Jose Sharks to win the Stanley Cup. They've been a popular selection the past few seasons but they've tripped themselves up every spring — and will this season too.

The Vancouver Canucks seem to be the consensus pick in the West, but their lack of team toughness leaves them vulnerable. The Kings are a scoring winger and productive second-line center from contending, though they have assets to trade to fill those holes. The Blackhawks will miss the gritty role players they had to dump. The Detroit Red Wings, who came on strong after overcoming injuries last season, could grab one last moment of glory.

The East is crazily unbalanced, with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins way ahead of everyone else. If the Caps could protect fragile goalie Semyon Varlamov in bubble wrap they would win the conference. Since they can't, the Penguins will nose them out.

helliott@tribune.com

Look for Caps' 1st Cup

Harvey Fialkov

Sun Sentinel

Since no team has repeated as Stanley Cup champion since the Red Wings 14 years ago, the Blackhawks, who have been gutted by salary-cap dumps, are out. The Bruins added Nathan Horton and rookie stud Tyler Seguin to bolster a comatose offense, but they're still shocked from last year's semifinal choke. The "Price" and karma is not right in Montreal for ditching goalie Jaroslav Halak for unproven Carey Price.

The aging Red Wings stood pat after a second-round ousting. Losing in the first round to Montreal was a Capital offense for Alexander Ovechkin and Co., so driven by anger, Washington won't have to go far to visit the president after downing the improving Vancouver Canucks in seven for the Caps' first Cup.

hfialkov@tribune.com

Canucks, Penguins best

Ron Fritz

Baltimore Sun

Last season I had the Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers in the final because of the Chris Pronger trade. I thought it strengthened both teams. I wasn't very high on the Chicago Blackhawks.

This offseason, there hasn't been a trade or signing that will affect a team like Pronger to the Flyers. So I like the Vancouver Canucks to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final. The Canucks are loaded at forward, have a strong defense and Robert Luongo in net. The Penguins upgraded their defense, still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front and a Cup-winning goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.

I love what the Flyers did in adding more beef to the defense, but trading Simon Gagne will hurt up front and they might have weaker goaltending than last season, if that's possible. So the Canucks will be drinking Molson out of the Cup or the Penguins will be hoisting it filled with Iron City.

rtfritz@tribune.com

Healthy Wings vs. Pens

Chris Kuc

Chicago Tribune

The Detroit Red Wings can't possibly undergo another season during which they're decimated by injuries (Can they?).

A healthy Wings squad still loaded with stars Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom — who could be making his swan song after a Hall of Fame career — along with emerging goaltender Jimmy Howard, will again rise to the top of the Western Conference. They will struggle past the defending champion Blackhawks in the postseason to reach the finals.

Their opponents coming out of the Eastern Conference will be the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will ride Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin past the Washington Capitals and into a showdown with Detroit.

ckuc@tribune.com

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