In the 2013-14 NHL season standings on the final day of March, there are only four teams officially out of the running for the 2014 Stanley Cup. In reality, the San Jose Sharks are one of only 10 teams with a legitimate chance to win it.
Teams fight hard to make the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they sell themselves on hope. The truth is that with the average team having fewer than seven games remaining in the 2013-14 NHL season, a gambler that could bet on 10 teams to win it all and have one pay out 100 times in 100 chances.
Whether the Dallas Stars or Phoenix Coyotes grab the last wild card berth in the Western Conference, neither has any chance to win the Stanley Cup. Either can pull off an upset in the first round, maybe even ride hot goaltending to a second round victory.
No team pulls off four upsets. The 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings may have been the lowest seed to win it all, but they were better than the New Jersey Devils and probably a Vancouver Canucks team without Daniel Sedin for most of the Western Conference quarterfinals. The Blues might have been better on paper the next round but there is no way Phoenix—just two points better in the Pacific Division standings that season—was as good.
The Sharks have shown since the 2011-12 NHL season that 15 games is about the limit for truly hot streaks. Even then, teams will not win them all. If that kind of streak happens in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it could possibly carry the Coyotes or Stars to a Western Conference title, but no further.
With the number of elite teams in their way to even reach the Stanley Cup finals, such a run is not going to happen. There will be multiple teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs that are simply not good enough to beat those elite Western Conference teams.
Both the Central and Pacific Divisions have three elite teams. No wild card team makes it through three of those six teams to win the Western Conference.
Even those teams have steeper climbs because they will have to go through at least three contenders to win it all. That is why it was a goal (and officially still is, but it is not going to happen) of San Jose to win the Pacific Division and avoid at least one of those teams.
The Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions are headed by elite teams, but any team can get hot enough to knock one or even both of them out. However, only Eastern Conference teams that can win the first round without being hot have a chance to get hot enough to beat the Western Conference champion. Thus the last two teams on the list (in order from most to least likely to win it all) are severe underdogs...