The teams that produced the two best regular-season records may top my Playoff Power Rankings, but this is the NHL, where first-round surprises are usually the rule, not the exception. Most recently, No. 8 Los Angeles upset No. 1 Vancouver last season before rolling to the Stanley Cup, and there's no shortage of historic examples.
PLAYOFF PREP: Staff picks | Upset alert | Key storylines | X-factors | Complete schedule
Yet, the Blackhawks and Penguins really do seem to stand apart from the rest of the competition in their respective conferences as the postseason dawns. It seems unfathomable that we won't see a Chicago-Pittsburgh Cup final. So, that's my pick. (Make sure to quickly place your bets in Vegas going the other way, as the patented Daterjinx will surely work its nefarious magic.)
But it's still going to be a tough road for the Hawks and Pens. The regular season may have been short, but it was also nasty and brutish, and the playoffs figure to be as taxing as ever on the mind and body for the soon-to-be bearded men of the ice. Nothing in this sport is assured, except taxes and the Daterjinx.
WEST PREVIEWS: Hawks-Wild | Ducks-Red Wings | Canucks-Sharks | Blues-KingsEAST: Penguins-Islanders | Canadiens-Senators | Capitals-Rangers | Bruins-Leafs
Before we get to my appraisal of the 16 playoff teams, let us present a final ranking of the also-rans as they sullenly file off to dig divots on broad, green expanses: 17. Blue Jackets; 18. Jets; 19. Flyers; 20. Coyotes; 21. Flames; 22. Devils; 23. Sabres; 24. Stars; 25. Hurricanes; 26. Oilers; 27. Lightning; 28. Predators; 29. Avalanche; 30. Panthers.