As we approach the NHL All-Star break the Boston Bruins have clearly established themselves as the NHL's best team.
Entering play on Saturday their record was 10 points better than any other team in the league, their goal differential was 42 goals better than any other team and they had lost just six of their first 48 games in regulation.
They are a force, and if they can make a big move at the trade deadline to further bolster their roster they should be the runaway favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
But as we all know being the best NHL team in the regular season does not always turn into a Stanley Cup championship at the end of the year. Being the best team in the league after 82 games is a huge accomplishment and should be celebrated, but being able to do that and still get through another two-month grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs takes a perfect combination of skill, health and luck.
It is not easy.
If somebody is going to beat the Boston Bruins in the playoffs and end their Stanley Cup dreams, these are five teams that might have the best chance.
Tampa Bay Lightning
No matter who wins a potential Boston-Tampa Bay series, it would be one of the best matchups in the league and probably be six or seven games of brilliant hockey.
Boston is the best team in the league this season.
Tampa Bay has been the most successful team in the league for the past seven years and is always in the running for the Stanley Cup. The Lightning are also not showing any signs of slowing down after three consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances and they still have one of the league's best rosters.
Sometimes we tend to take this team and their success for granted because we get bored with them always being good (or simply expect it).
Make no mistake, they are still a force and boast some of the NHL's best players. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point are all having monster years, they still have quality depth and they are always a potential buyer at the trade deadline no matter what their salary cap situation is.
As if all of that is not enough, they also have the most accomplished goalie currently in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy to be the last line of defense. When he is on his game he is a game-wrecker for opponents, and it is almost unfair to have a goalie that good behind a team this good. He is money when it comes to the playoffs, and he could ruin any team's Stanley Cup dreams all by himself.
If the Bruins are going to win the Stanley Cup there is a very good chance they will have to get through Tampa Bay in the second round. It will not be easy.
Never bet against the defending Stanley Cup champions until somebody beats them.
The Avalanche's 2022-23 season might not be going exactly as planned, and they might still find themselves in a fight to actually make the playoffs, but their problem is not one of talent.
It is one of health.
As in, a significant portion of their top players have missed major time this season and left their roster as a shell of what it should be.
At some point you have to imagine that will change a little bit and they will get players like Valeri Nichushkin, Gabriel Landeskog and Bowen Byram back in the lineup. When that happens, and if they can add a second-line center to replace Nazem Kadri, this team will again be one of the best in the league.
When healthy their collection of forwards has a great mix of elite stars (with Nathan MacKinnon leading the way) and strong complementary pieces, while their defense is arguably the best unit from top-to-bottom in the NHL. Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and Samuel Girard would all be top-pairing defenders on any team in the league, while Byram has superstar potential of his own.
They just need all of these guys in the lineup at the same time.
If they get to that point they are perfectly capable of becoming the latest repeat Stanley Cup champions.