Several teams face pressure to win Cup

The New York Rangers made a big push in trading for Rick Nash to
improve their chances of winning a championship for the first time
since 1994.

”It’s the right time for him to be here with us,” Rangers
coach John Tortorella said.

On the opposite side of the continent, the Vancouver Canucks
can’t wait to resume the franchise’s quest for its first Cup when
the lockout-delayed season starts Saturday night at home against
Anaheim.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins are also feeling
a sense of urgency to win it all again.

And advancing one round in the playoffs isn’t enough anymore for
the Nashville Predators, who raised the stakes by matching a
14-year, $110-million contract to keep star defenseman Shea
Weber.

Even though the Predators don’t have the best defensive pair in
the league anymore with Ryan Suter joining fellow free agent Zach
Parise in Minnesota, Nashville expects to try for more than just a
third straight trip to the Western Conference semifinals.

”Without a doubt, the ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup,” said
Weber, who was wooed by the Philadelphia Flyers with a long and
lucrative offer sheet as a restricted free agent last summer.

”And to do that, you have to make the postseason. Anything can
happen as we all witnessed with Los Angeles last year.”

The Kings, seeded eighth, started by knocking off the top-seeded
Canucks in the West and finished with a 6-1 rout of the New Jersey
Devils in Game 6 of the finals.

That’s why Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, who is
hoping to help the franchise extend its postseason streak, said
it’s not realistic for there to be a lot of pressure on any one
team to win it all.

”The Cup contenders will be the 16 teams that make the
playoffs,” Holland said while watching his team prepare on the ice
earlier this week for a 48-game regular season.

”The eighth seed won the Stanley Cup against the sixth from the
East. The days in the 1990s and early 2000s when the top teams had
easier runs in the early rounds are over.

”It’s wide open, and that’s the beauty of the league.”

It won’t be pretty, though, in some cities if the results are
anything short of a championship.

The Rangers made a long run in the postseason, six games into
the Eastern Conference finals against New Jersey.

The Rangers also played in the Eastern Conference finals in
1997. Those two postseasons are the team’s longest since beating
the Canucks in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals. That was the
year before the last lockout-shortened season.

New York led the East with 109 points last season with Marian
Gaborik and Brad Richards leading up front and goaltender Henrik
Lundqvist having the best year of his career.

Not content to make another run with the same lineup, the
Rangers acquired Nash, a former NHL goal-scoring champion, in
exchange for three players – Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and
Tim Erixon – along with a first-round pick in the 2013 draft.

Nash might be good enough to put the Rangers over the top.

The 28-year-old, five-time All-Star has scored 40 goals twice,
including the 2003-04 season when he had an NHL-high 41 goals a
year after being drafted No. 1 overall.

Nash, though, lifted Columbus to the playoffs only once.

Now, he’s on a team that’ll only be satisfied by a Cup. And,
he’s also makes a transition from playing in one of the league’s
smallest markets to its largest.

”I think it’s a little bit different for him,” Tortorella
said.

It’ll also be different for Roberto Luongo to be on the bench –
if he’s still with the Canucks when the season starts – while Cory
Schneider is in net. Schneider signed a three-year, $12 million
contract extension last summer while Luongo heard about trade
rumors.

Luongo lost his job after giving up seven goals over the first
two games of the playoffs, a 0-2 deficit Vancouver couldn’t
overcome after leading the NHL in points for a second straight
season.

The Canucks have a chance to do it three years in a row with a
stacked roster led by the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, who
combined for 148 points last season.

Pittsburgh, though, probably has the best duo with the reigning
NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin and the return of Sidney Crosby.
Concussion-like symptoms limited Crosby to 22 games last season and
41 the previous regular season.

Crosby said he puts more pressure on himself than anyone else
could to win the Stanley Cup again after he helped the Penguins
beat Detroit in a Stanley Cup finals rematch four years ago.

”I have high expectations and our team has high expectations,”
he said. ”I don’t think that ever really changes.”

Hopes changed in Chicago when the Blackhawks broke through and
reinvigorated their fan base with a Stanley Cup run in 2010 – the
franchise’s first title since 1961 – only to dash them with
consecutive first-round exits.

”After winning the Cup a couple of years ago, I think everyone
was on top of the world,” said Patrick Kane, who couldn’t match
the production he had during the championship season in the past
two years.

”You realize that two other teams have done it. It’s one of
those things where you want to get it back, but it’s a long road
ahead. It’s definitely a goal for the season to go as far as
possible and win it.”

And in Detroit, a Cup-or-best culture has been cultivated with
four Stanley Cups since 1997 and a postseason streak that last
lasted two-plus decades.

The Red Wings insist they’re still a championship contender
without Nicklas Lidstrom on the roster for the first time since the
1990-91 season.

The seven-time Norris Trophy winner retired last summer and
turned down a chance to come back for the 48-game season.

Brad Stuart left another void on the blue line when he was
traded to San Jose instead of leaving to sign with the Sharks in
free agency.

Henrik Zetterberg, the new captain, still likes his team’s
chances with talented teammates such as Pavel Datsyuk up front,
Niklas Kronwall on the back end and Jimmy Howard in net.

”We still have a good enough team to go all the way,”
Zetterberg said. ”But to win the Cup, you have to make the
playoffs. In the Western Conference, it’s hard to look at all the
good teams and say what teams aren’t going to make it. The last few
years, more and more contenders have been popping up and more and
more teams believe in themselves.”

AP Sports Writers Teresa Walker, Will Graves and Andrew Seligman
contributed to this report.

Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage