Each NHL season ends with this picture. Players have spent their whole lives dreaming of being in it. Grown men of character and skill have wept being part of it. Every fan on planet earth is sure this is the year.
Until it isn't again.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a war of attrition unlike any other in professional sport. The best regular season team has gone home in the first week more than once, and there is nothing to suggest that fate could not await again this year.
The hockey gods are at their best (or worst) this time of year. One crazy bounce, one fluke goal and six months of hard work and sacrifice go up in flames. One crazy bounce or one fluke goal and a team that has no business playing on does just that.
Someone's team is going to wind up in that picture up there in June. Here's why it probably won't be yours.