It took the very last game of the season to determine who was in, but, as of now, 16 NHL teams are preparing themselves for the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pre-lockout, the idea that any one of the 16 teams that made the postseason could end up winning the Cup was largely hyperbole.
With rare exceptions, the big money teams with the depth, defense, goaltending and firepower usually ended up skating away with Lord Stanley's Cup at the end of the playoffs, just like so many people predicted they would at the beginning of the NHL's second season.
However, times have changed quiet a bit.
That all important paradigm of "parity" NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman purchased at the cost of an entire NHL season may still not have been worth that particular price tag, however, for my money, parity has made the league, and especially the playoffs, more exciting.
It's hard to look at a No. 1 seed now and not find a few flaws that could very well send them off to an earlier than expected summer, just as it's tough not to see a scrappy No. 8 seed as a team no one is going to see coming and might, just might, skate away with it all in June.
The NHL's playing field (or ice rank as the case may be) is truly as level as it has ever been and that means there are no more easy first-round series and handicapping championships is nearly impossible.
Still, for various reasons, one could look at this year's crop of playoff teams and pick out a few that, just don't seem capable of reaching the NHL's Promised Land.
It could be that they're missing key players to injury, lack the depth any team needs in this league to win a Cup, or, just don't have the experience it takes to scratch and claw 16 wins over the next two months.
Some of these picks will likely make you mad, and some, you might agree with.
Whatever your reaction, make sure to make your voice heard as I'm more than ready to talk about why these five teams have no chance of winning a Stanley Cup this year.
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As a Red Wings fan, let me be perfectly honest up front by saying that, the reason Phoenix has no chance of winning a Stanley Cup this season isn't because I think they'll be beat by Detroit in the first round.
In fact, I think the Yotes may be capable of pulling four wins out of this series and send Detroit home before the end of April.
However, regardless of whether or not the Coyotes can make it out of the first round this year, at some point, their season will end and it won't be celebrated by drinking champagne out of the Stanley Cup.
The Coyotes do have great goaltending, a solid defense and great veteran leadership in the personage of Shane Doan.
However, their overall lack of offense and championship experience is a combination that will doom them at some point, and I'm guessing this will come well before the Stanley Cup Finals.
Phoenix has just one 20-goal scorer (the aforementioned Doan) and a whopping two Stanley Cup rings on its roster, and one of those was earned by Ilya Bryzgalov while he was ridding pine in Anaheim in 2007 (the other belongs to Ray Whitney who won it with Carolina the year before).
One of these issues may be enough for a team to overcome, but dealing with both is just too tall an order for a Coyotes team who is certainly hungry to win but will ultimately be left with their stomachs' growling.
It's simple: No Crosby + No Malkin = no Cup in Steeltown.
Alright, you want a little bit more, you want to talk about Dan Bylsma and Jordan Staal, no problem.
I'd agree with you if you said Dan Bylsma deserves some Jack Adams attention this season, and I wouldn't argue that, even though he began the season late, Jordan Staal has really stepped up well for the Penguins this year.
Both Bylsma and Staal have been huge for the Pens this season.
However, with Evegeni Malkin out for the year with a torn ACL and Sidney Crosby still unsure when or if he'll return, the Penguins simply do not have what it takes to go all the way this season.
Crosby has been out since January with post-concussion issues, yet he still leads his team in scoring by a country mile (which, in this case, is measured by 16 points).
Malkin's size, strength and offensive brilliance are what Stanley Cup championships are built on, as evidenced by his Conn Smythe win in 2009, and missing those rare gifts are going to be a problem for Pittsburgh in the post-season.
The Pens may just win a round or two, but, in the end, they'll be looking to next year with 15 other teams in June.
I'll put my cards on the table and tell you now that I thought the Kings were one of eight potential Cup champs at the start of the season.
Furthermore, if they had Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams in the lineup, I would not have put them on this list.
But, as promising a team as I think the Kings are, the loss of their top two scorers for what could be the rest of the post-season (though Williams might make it back by the end of the first-round) has essentially doomed whatever chances they may have had at championship run this year.
Added to their injury woes is the fact that they drew the San Jose Sharks in the first round.
While these two squads are more evenly matched than most would think, the fact that this series will likely be determined by offense is clear given as how that's the game the Sharks are going to force the Kings to play.
Without Kopitar or Williams, there's just not enough firepower in La-La Land to compete with the likes of San Jose.
As such, it looks as if the Kings will be a one-series team yet again this season.
Could Ryan Miller win a playoff series by himself?
A Stanley Cup?
Why focus on Miller alone? Well, because Miller is the team's most important player, and that status was only elevated more with the losses of Derek Roy and Jordan Leopold, both key offensive contributors and both not expected to be back this season.
While Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford should continue to lead the offensive charge in Buffalo, the Sabres lack the offensive depth touted by Eastern Conference colleagues such as Philadelphia (who the Sabres will face in the first round) and Washington:two teams that will most likely have something to say about who will represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals.
There's a lot of positives swirling around Buffalo right now as new ownership has brought with it the hope of a new commitment to winning the franchise's first ever Stanley Cup.
They may very well see that dream realize but not this year.
I wouldn't be surprised if the Rangers are attached to a significant piece of hardware at season's end, but it won't be the Stanley Cup.
Given his brilliance in net this season, goalie Henrik Lundquist may well emerge as the 2011 Vezina Trophy winner, but not even King Henrik will be able to play well enough, long enough to win his team their first Cup since 1994.
While their team offense isn't bad (233 goals), the fact that the Rangers lack a true offensive one-two punch will ultimately cost them in the post-season.
Among the eight Eastern playoff teams, the Rangers' rank dead last when it comes to the players to lead their team in scoring.
Brandon Dubinsky holds this honor in New York, and he only needed to score 54 points to get it.
Marian Gaborik should be that guy in New York and by the way of 70+ points at that.
However, the Rangers are a team that, at least this year, has ridden their phenomenal goaltending to just squeak into the eighth spot with 93 points, and they'll find out soon enough that they won't be able to do the same to win a Stanley Cup.