The 48-game, lockout-shortened NHL regular season flew by, and now it's time for the real thing as the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs are set to drop the puck.
While it may have been easier (or harder) for some teams to make the playoffs with a shorter schedule, there will be no gimmes in these seven-game series, as only the best teams will end up moving on.
Will we see the Chicago Blackhawks continue their historic tear through the postseason? Will surprises like Montreal or Anaheim make deep runs? Or will we see a low seed hoist the Stanley Cup yet again?
Let's dive in and check out the schedules for each series.
No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 8 Minnesota Wild
|Tuesday, April 30||8 p.m.||Chicago||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|Friday, May 3||9:30 p.m.||Chicago||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|Sunday, May 5||3 p.m.||Minnesota||NBC, CBC|
|Tuesday, May 7||9:30 p.m.||Minnesota||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|*Thursday, May 9||TBD||Chicago||CBC|
|*Saturday, May 11||TBD||Minnesota||CBC|
|*Sunday, May 12||TBD||Chicago||CBC|
No. 2 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 7 Detroit Red Wings
|Tuesday, April 30||10:30 p.m.||Anaheim||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|Thursday, May 2||10 p.m.||Anaheim||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|Saturday, May 4||7:30 p.m.||Detroit||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|Monday, May 6||8 p.m.||Detroit||CNBC, TSN|
|*Wednesday, May 8||10 p.m.||Anaheim||TSN|
|*Friday, May 10||TBD||Detroit||TSN|
|*Sunday, May 12||TBD||Anaheim||TSN|
No. 3 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 6 San Jose Sharks
|Wednesday, May 1||10:30 p.m.||Vancouver||TSN, NBC Sports Network|
|Friday, May 3||10 p.m.||Vancouver||TSN, CNBC|
|Sunday, May 5||10 p.m.||San Jose||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|Tuesday, May 7||10 p.m.||San Jose||CNBC, TSN|
|*Thursday, May 9||10 p.m.||Vancouver||TSN|
|*Saturday, May 11||TBD||San Jose||TSN|
|*Monday, May 13||TBD||Vancouver||TSN|
No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Kings
|Tuesday, April 30||8 p.m.||St. Louis||CNBC, CBC|
|Thursday, May 2||9:30 p.m.||St. Louis||CNBC, CBC|
|Saturday, May 4||10 p.m.||Los Angeles||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|Monday, May 6||10 p.m.||Los Angeles||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|*Wednesday, May 8||TBD||St. Louis||CBC|
|*Friday, May 10||TBD||Los Angeles||CBC|
|*Monday, May 13||TBD||St. Louis||CBC|
No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 8 New York Islanders
|Wednesday, May 1||7:30 p.m.||Pittsburgh||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|Friday, May 3||7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|Sunday, May 5||Noon||New York||NBC, TSN|
|Tuesday, May 7||7 p.m.||New York||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|*Thursday, May 9||7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||TSN|
|*Saturday, May 11||TBD||New York||TSN|
|*Sunday, May 12||TBD||Pittsburgh||TSN|
No. 2 Montreal Canadiens vs. No. 7 Ottawa Senators
|Wednesday, May 2||7 p.m.||Montreal||CNBC, CBC|
|Friday, May 3||7 p.m.||Montreal||CNBC, CBC|
|Sunday, May 5||7 p.m.||Ottawa||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|Tuesday, May 7||7 p.m.||Ottawa||CNBC, CBC|
|*Thursday, May 9||7 p.m.||Montreal||CBC|
|*Saturday, May 11||TBD||Ottawa||CBC|
|*Sunday, May 12||TBD||Montreal||CBC|
No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
|Thursday, May 2||7:30 p.m.||Washington||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|Saturday, May 4||12:30 p.m.||Washington||NBC, TSN|
|Monday, May 6||7:30 p.m.||New York||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|Wednesday, May 8||7:30 p.m.||New York||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|*Friday, May 10||7:30 p.m.||Washington||TSN|
|*Sunday, May 12||TBD||New York||TSN|
|*Monday, May 13||TBD||Washington||TSN|
No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Toronto Maple Leafs
|Wednesday, May 1||7 p.m.||Boston||CNBC, CBC|
|Saturday, May 4||7 p.m.||Boston||CNBC, CBC|
|Monday, May 6||7 p.m.||Toronto||NHL Network (U.S.), CBC|
|Wednesday, May 8||7 p.m.||Toronto||NHL Network (U.S.), CBC|
|*Friday, May 10||7 p.m.||Boston||CBC|
|*Sunday, May 12||TBD||Toronto||CBC|
|*Monday, May 13||TBD||Boston||CBC|
- All times Eastern Daylight Time
* = if necessary
It's difficult in any league to pick one team out of 16 that will win a tournament, but in the NHL, it's nearly impossible. Last year, a tiny fraction of people would have taken the Kings to rout through the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup in dominating fashion.
I'm not going out on a limb this year, though. This year, the Chicago Blackhawks are head-and-shoulders above every other team and are firing on all cylinders.
Their immense collection of talent is finally mature enough to make them a real Cup contender every season. We saw in 2010 what that untapped potential could do even as a bunch of youngsters, but in 2013 they're a whole different beast.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are playing like superstars, and the rest of the roster is full of talented playmakers. It also doesn't hurt that their goals-against average of 2.0 is the best in the NHL, and they are second in the league in goals for with 3.1 per game.
When you average winning by more than one goal per game, it's pretty obvious that your team is unstoppable. The Blackhawks will prove that by cruising through an inconsistent Western Conference and then taking down the Bruins in the East, who are getting hot at the right time.
Stanley Cup Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks over Boston Bruins in five games.