The idea is that NHL teams want to go into the Stanley Cup playoffs playing their best hockey of the season.
A team that has momentum will go into the postseason with its confidence surging, and that gives it a chance to survive and advance.
However, the NHL playoffs don't often go according to form. Last year, the Vancouver Canucks went into the playoffs as the Presidents' Trophy winners. They were the best team in the NHL in the regular season, yet they were defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
With the playoffs about to get underway, we examine the recent form and the stock watch of every team that is playing postseason hockey.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference. They reeled off a 15-game winning streak in March and even though they lost Sidney Crosby to a broken jaw, they come into the postseason having won eight of their last 10 games.
Crosby should be back sometime during the postseason. He could be back early in their first-round series against the overmatched New York Islanders.
The Penguins are a dynamic offensive team that has been surging.
The Montreal Canadiens were competing with the Penguins for Eastern Conference honors throughout the majority of the season. The Canadiens fell behind when the Penguins went on a 15-game winning streak in March.
The Canadiens played stellar hockey for a large portion of the season. With their creative and explosive offense, they built an advantage over the Boston Bruins and took over first place in the Northeast Division.
But with the playoffs in sight, the Canadiens lost much of their edge. They slumped in the final 10 games, going 4-6-0 in the process. The biggest reason for the downward slide was the brutal play of Carey Price in goal.
If the Canadiens don't get improved play in the net, their superb season could end with a first-round loss in the playoffs.
The Capitals go into the playoffs having redefined themselves from the start of the season.
Early in the year, the Caps eschewed the philosophy that it was best to get off to a hot start in a 48-game season.
The Caps were buried with a 2-8-1 record after their first 11 games. But instead of accepting their fate, the Caps got organized under rookie head coach Adam Oates and improved steadily.
Alex Ovechkin found his game in the second half of the season and he became the league's leading goal scorer with 32 goals.
The Caps played their best hockey at the end of the season. With a playoff berth and the Southeast Division championship on the line, Washington was 8-1-1 in its last 10 games of the regular season.
Pittsburgh may be the best team in the Eastern Conference, but the Caps may be the team that gives the Penguins the most trouble prior to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Bruins looked like an elite team throughout the first half of the season. Their record was nearly as impressive as the Chicago Blackhawks and they were combining strong physical play with the ability to score clutch goals along with excellent goaltending and penalty killing.
However, their play eroded steadily in the second half of the year and they limped home in April. With a chance to win the division in the final weekend of the season, the Bruins blew a 2-0 lead at Washington and lost in overtime 3-2 and then dropped a 4-2 decision to the Ottawa Senators in the regular-season finale.
The Bruins added veteran superstar Jaromir Jagr to bolster their attack, but the Bruins were just 3-5-2 over their final 10 games.
The Bruins did not suddenly forget to play hockey, but they are no longer the steady and reliable team they once were. If they don't rediscover their punishing identity in the first round of the playoffs against Toronto, they will find themselves on the outside looking in rather quickly.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in the playoffs. Period.
It doesn't matter that in their final games of the regular season the Leafs were not at their best. They have overcome a recent history of terrible hockey and late-season collapses. Instead of playing golf in early May, they are going to be playing postseason hockey.
That means the Maple Leafs should go into the playoffs on a high. They are playing an opponent that has treated them shabbily—the Leafs have lost nine of their last 10 games vs. the Bruins—but that shouldn't matter.
The Leafs have not been in the playoffs since the 2003-04 season. They should be excited by the prospect.
The Leafs have lost four of their last six games, and the goaltending has been a recent concern. However, the dark cloud of "DNQ" has been lifted and there is a genuine enthusiasm surrounding this team.
It was the strangest of seasons for the New York Rangers, who went into the season as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers never played anything like the best team. While they had dominated in the regular season last year, it was touch-and-go that they would even make the playoffs this year.
The biggest issue was a lack of goal scoring. When the Rangers traded superstar Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets for role players at the trade deadline, it seemed like a strange maneuver. However, the new mix gave the Rangers more hustle, grit and determination, much to head coach John Tortorella's liking.
As a result, the Rangers went 7-3-0 over their final 10 games and finished sixth in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are still a team that has problems, but they are playing their best hockey of the season as the playoffs begin.
The Senators had every reason to fall apart during the regular season as they were decimated by injuries.
The worst of those injuries happened when Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson had his Achilles partially torn after a run-in at the boards with Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke.
Head coach Paul MacLean never let his team quit despite this and other injuries to Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and goalie Craig Anderson.
However, over the final weeks of the season, the Senators lack of explosive scoring became an issue. They suffered through a five-game losing streak late in the season and finished 6-7-0 in the final 13 games.
While the Senators got a boost with Karlsson's unexpected return, they go into the postseason with a notable lack of offense.
Like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Islanders are back in the playoffs after a long absence.
The Islanders have not played postseason hockey since 2006-07, and there is hope that this is just the first step for this team and that it will get stronger and better in the years to come.
A first-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins is not a cause for optimism, but head coach Jack Capuano has his team playing aggressive and hard-hitting hockey. The Islanders have a legitimate superstar in John Tavares to lead them into battle.
They probably won't win more than one game in the series. However, the Islanders come into this series with momentum. They are 6-1-3 in their last 10 games. Don't be concerned about the season-ending three-game losing streak since two of those losses came in shootouts.
The Chicago Blackhawks were the NHL's best team in the regular season by a significant margin.
They started the season with a record 24-game point streak at the start of the season. Once they finally lost, they came back to earth to some degree, but they are a dynamic team with explosive tendencies.
The Blackhawks are not a physical team by any stretch, but they can carry the puck, pass the puck and shoot it. They have a slew of highly skilled players, led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith.
The Blackhawks finished the season on a 7-2-1 roll and they should have significant momentum when they start the playoffs against the Minnesota Wild.
The Ducks pulled a remarkable turnaround this year, rising from 14th in the Western Conference to the second seed behind the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Ducks combined a grinding, physical style that takes advantage of their size and strength with clutch goal scoring and excellent goaltending with Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller.
That's a proven playoff formula.
The Ducks played better earlier in the year than they did in the final stages. They limped home with a 5-4-1 record in their final 10 games and they are 1-3-1 in their last five home games.
While Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are stars who can cause a lot of damage, it may be tough for golden oldies Teemu Selanne (three goals in last 11 games) and Saku Koivu (no goals since March 16) to sustain their play in the postseason.
If there's one team that is not likely to get too excited over a hot finish or too depressed over an ordinary one, it's the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks went into each of the last two postseasons with the Presidents' Trophy in hand, but both years ended in heartbreak. In 2011, they were defeated in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final by the Boston Bruins and they were bounced in the first round by the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings last year.
This year, the Canucks have been fairly ordinary in the regular season. They were challenged by the Minnesota Wild for the Northwest Division title in late March, but they rebounded and won the division and the Western Conference's third seed rather easily.
The Canucks were just 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, but don't make the mistake of writing this team off. The focus is no longer solely on the Canucks, and that may play to this team's advantage in the playoffs.
At the start of the season, many thought the St. Louis Blues would be on top in the Western Conference.
They were the second seed in last year's playoffs and Ken Hitchcock's team appeared to be coming back stronger than it was in 2011-12.
The team's goaltending had been its best asset last year, but that area was quite inconsistent for the first half of the season. However, Brian Elliott (2.28 goals against average, .908 save percentage) regained his form late in the season and the Blues have more momentum now than they have at any point in the year.
They won seven of their last 10 games to finish as the fourth seed in the playoffs. While they will have home-ice advantage, they will have to play the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the first round.
That's a tough matchup, but if the Blues can use their late momentum to take the first two games of the series at home, they have a much better chance to survive.
The Los Angeles Kings did nothing during the regular season to make any serious NHL observer believe they were not capable of defending their Stanley Cup championship.
They got off to a slow start that is often associated with winning the NHL title, but Darryl Sutter's team quickly rebounded. They were not able to challenge the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division title, but the Kings have the depth, firepower and goaltending to cause problems for any team in the NHL.
However, once they established themselves as a playoff team, they were relatively disinterested in the final 10 games. The Kings went 5-3-2 in that span.
The Kings were a dominant road team in last year's postseason run, but they closed the season 0-4-2 in their last six regular-season games away from home.
The Sharks were a streaky team throughout the season. They won their first seven games, then went through a long slump in which they struggled to score goals as well as win games.
They rebounded nicely with another seven-game winning streak, but they could not sustain it as they split their last 10 games.
A loss to the Kings in the regular-season finale demoted the Sharks to the sixth seed and gave them a date with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Sharks have often gone into the playoffs with momentum, but they have never made it out of the Western Conference playoffs.
Expectations are much lower than they have been, and the veteran Sharks will have to show toughness and indomitability against the Vancouver Canucks—two characteristics that have often been in short supply during previous postseason forays.
The Red Wings woke up last week with a heap of pressure on their shoulders.
They were in ninth place in the Western Conference and they had four games remaining. If they won all four games, they would return to the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year. If they lost even one, they would need help to make it.
The Red Wings had lacked consistency all season and had a difficult time sustaining their play from one period to another, let alone for four straight games.
However, that's just what happened. The Red Wings played picture-perfect playoff hockey in beating the Phoenix Coyotes, the Los Angeles Kings, the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
The Red Wings are not the team they have been in the past, thanks mainly to the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and several key injuries. However, they are in the playoffs once again and Mike Babcock's team is playing its best hockey of the season.
The Wild had taken over first place in the Northwest Division in late March and it looked like they would engage the Vancouver Canucks in a full-fledged, down-the-stretch battle for the division title and one of the top three seeds in the playoffs.
However, the Wild seemed to feel the pressure the closer they got to the end of the regular season. They slumped and the division title was no longer in the picture.
It became a battle just to make the playoffs. When the Wild lost their penultimate game 6-1 to the Edmonton Oilers at home, they were in trouble. They needed a win over the Colorado Avalanche on the road to earn a playoff spot.
That's just what happened and it enabled head coach Mike Yeo to breathe a sigh of relief. The Wild was 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and they get to face the league's best team, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the first round of the playoffs.
It should be a short postseason run for Minnesota.