Put away the razors and shaving cream and get ready—playoff hockey has arrived.
The 16-team field for the 2013 NHL playoffs are set, and now all that's left to do is to watch the two-month-long journey unfold.
Two recent Stanley Cup champions, Chicago and Pittsburgh, look like the early favorites to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup again at season's end, but the defending champion Los Angeles Kings still have a say in whether they will or not.
But if the Kings taught us anything last year, going 12-4-3 to close out the regular season in 2011-12, it's that the hotter a team is coming into the playoffs, the deeper the run.
Below we'll highlight a trio of scorching-hot teams set to make deep runs this postseason.
Detroit Red Wings, No. 7 Seed, West
Only the Philadelphia Flyers closed the regular season as well as the Detroit Red Wings, who have won four straight games coming into the playoffs.
Detroit rallied down the stretch, outscoring its opponents 15-3 over its final four games to clinch the No. 7 seed out West, setting up a first-round clash with the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks. While the Ducks do plenty of things well, including score and dominate on the power play, the Red Wings have had their number this season, winning two straight and outscoring them 7-2 over those six periods.
Both of Detroit's wins over Anaheim came on the road inside the Honda Center, which means the Red Wings won't be intimidated by the Ducks' home-ice advantage this spring.
There are upsets in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs every year (remember the eighth-seeded Kings last year?), and I look for Detroit, a team with a championship pedigree, to be the one that pulls off the huge upset in Round 1 in 2013.
Pittsburgh Penguins, No. 1 Seed, East
The highest-scoring team in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the top seed in the Eastern Conference and look poised to make their third Stanley Cup Finals appearance in six years this summer.
Dan Bylsma's squad is also incredibly strong on the power play, ranking second in the league with a one-man advantage. If this team has a flaw, it's on the defensive end, where Pittsburgh ranks 12th in goals allowed (2.5 per game) and just 25th in penalty-kill percentage (79.6).
Still, with home-ice advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Pens are going to be awfully difficult to beat four times. I, like many, look for them to return to the Stanley Cup Finals this coming June.
Washington Capitals, No. 3 Seed, East
The Washington Capitals are the hottest team in hockey right now, hands down.
Led by the NHL's leading goal scorer in Alex Ovechkin (32 goals), the Caps have won 11 of their last 13 games coming into their first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers. Plus, Washington boasts the league's fourth-highest-scoring offense and best overall power play.
The Capitals are scoring on nearly 27 percent of their power-play chances and averaging three goals per game coming into postseason play.
With a healthy Mike Green organizing the Caps on the power play, and Ovechkin sizzling on the wing, this is a dangerous, battle-tested team playing with a ton of confidence.
Don't be surprised if the Caps blow by the Rangers and upend one of the East's top seeds in Pittsburgh or Montreal in the later rounds this spring.
2013 NHL Playoff Bracket
No. 1. Pittsburgh Penguins
No. 8. New York Islanders
No. 4.Boston Bruins
No. 5. Toronto Maple Leafs
No. 2. Montreal Canadiens
No. 7. Ottawa Senators
No. 3. Washington Capitals
No. 6. New York Rangers
No. 1. Chicago Blackhawks
No. 8. Minnesota Wild
No. 4. St. Louis Blues
No. 5. Los Angeles Kings
No. 2. Anaheim Ducks
No. 7. Detroit Red Wings
No. 3. Vancouver Canucks
No. 6. San Jose Sharks
*In the second round, top remaining conference seed plays against the lowest remaining seed, and the other two remaining teams play each other.
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