At the end of a hard-fought regular season, 16 NHL teams ready themselves for the (hopefully) two-month journey that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To win sports' most famous trophy, a team must win 16 postseason games against four opponents, three from their conference and the winner of the other conference, who want to win it all just as bad.
Best-of-seven game series determine who advances to the next round and who ends the season. This year's playoff race features a pool of 16 teams that all have a legitimate chance of winning hockey's biggest prize, from the first seeded Vancouver Canucks in the West to the the eighth seeded Washington Capitals in the East.
All kinds of variables determine who ultimately lifts the Stanley Cup in victory. If many facets align at precisely the right time, the winning team will have its players' names etched into the hallowed cup for eternity.
Before the playoffs start, every team must address at least one problem that might be the difference between an offseason filled with disappointment and an offseason filled with parades and a day with Lord Stanley.
While the full playoff field is not yet completely set, most teams have claimed the 16 available slots for the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.