The Ominous Window
Watching the San Jose Sharks going down in Game 3 to the St. Louis Blues on Monday night, a series that seems solidly in the control of the Blues, brought the situation of both clubs into sharp relief.
For the Blues, the window for winning a championship seems to be just opening. With their best youngsters just hitting their prime - Patrick Berglund was awesome in a 4-3 win in Game 3, the Blues' first road playoff win in nine years - its not hard to forecast the best days are ahead for the club. If Alex Pietrangelo becomes the star on defence many are suggesting he will be, all the elements may be there for St. Louis' first Cup in the near future.
For the Sharks, a strong NHL outfit for a decade that still hasn't been able to get to a Stanley Cup final, the window looks to be closing. Joe Thornton is 32, Patrick Marleau will be 33 when next season begins (if it begins) and Dan Boyle will soon turn 36.
The Sharks also have some good youth, notably Logan Couture and Brent Burns. But the chance for this team to win it all with the current group probably expired last spring, unless, of course, Thornton can lead a huge comeback in this series against St. Louis.
When you watch the playoffs, its hard not to put the teams you're watching into one category or the other.
Take Washington-Boston, for example, with the Bruins up two games to one in the series after winning last night in D.C.
For the reigning champs, the window is still open. They could triumph again, particularly if the NHL continues to let lawlessness be the theme for the 2012 post-season.
And the Caps? Their core - Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom - is much younger than that of the Sharks. Yet it feels like the Caps have underachieved with that core and that it will likely be broken up to some degree if, as looks likely, Washington goes out in the first round.
It will be even harder to knock off the champs if Backstrom is suspended for his cross-check to the face of Boston's Rich Peverley after time expired on Monday night. It was similar in some ways, but not exactly the same, to the crosscheck delivered by Pittsburgh's Arron Asham on Brayden Schenn of the Flyers on Sunday.
Peverley wasn't injured, and neither was Schenn. But many are expecting five or more games for Asham. If Department of Player Safety boss Brendan Shanahan is going to recover an ounce of credibility - he has admitted that he was going to suspend Shea Weber for a game before being told Henrik Zetterberg wasn't significantly injured - there will have to be some relationship between the discipline meted out to Asham and Backstrom. They cannot produce wildly different results for this to make any sense.
But back to the window open/window closed discussion. What about the other teams still left in the playoffs?
Window opening: Rangers, Flyers, Predators, Kings.
Window closing: Penguins, Red Wings, Canucks, Blackhawks.
Open to debate: Panthers, Devils. Coyotes, Senators.