The NHL lockout cost the league nearly half the season, and the 48-game sprint is now over.
This season saw Washington's Alex Ovechkin break out of his two-year slump to once again lead the league in goals. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby was himself as well, putting up points at a phenomenal rate, but the unluckiest superstar in sports was once again injured late in the season after taking a puck to the face.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are back, along with the Montreal Canadiens, but the Ottawa Senators might be Canada’s most dangerous team.
The New York Rangers are hoping adding Rick Nash will get them back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994, and the Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs for the 22nd straight season, even without freshly retired former captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
The Minnesota Wild's offseason moves boosted them to the playoffs, but will Zach Parise and Ryan Suter be enough to allow them to advance?
Can the Blackhawks finish off their record-breaking start to the season? Will Ovechkin finally lead the Capitals past the second round? Is this the year that Jarome Iginla will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup? What’s wrong with Vancouver? Can the Kings repeat?
There are a lot of questions going into the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, and here are the ten biggest storylines so far.
Since beating Boston in Game 5 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, Alain Vigneault's Canucks have lost 10 of their last 11 playoff games.
Looking to rebound from losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at home, the Canucks repeated as the Presidents' Trophy winner last year, but were subsequently bounced from the first round in five games by eventual champion Los Angeles. In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Vancouver won its fifth-straight Northwest Division title, but was swept in the first round by the sixth-seeded San Jose Sharks.
The last two years have been marred by a goaltender controversy between Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider as well as injuries to Ryan Kesler. Consecutive first-round exists could cost Vigneault his job. The offseason will be a busy one for General Manager Mike Gillis.
Heading into the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the prohibitive favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. The only outlier seemed to be the health of Sidney Crosby, but he squashed that question with two goals in the first period of Game 2 after missing 13 games with a broken jaw.
However, the Penguins' biggest issue has been the poor netminding of Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2003, has given up 12 goals in his past three games after registering a shutout in Game 1.
The goals Fleury has allowed have not only been bad — off the boards and off his pad into the net in Game 2; off the shaft of his stick along the ice in Game 4 — but they have been at the most inopportune times. He gave up a softie in Game 4 with just over a minute left, his team down one goal.
Fleury has been benched for Game 5 by head coach Dan Bylsma, and Tomas Vokoun will start in his place. Vokoun is 3-0-0 vs the Islanders this season with a .970 save percentage. It was a move that had to be made, and if the Penguins lose the series, it would be one of the most surprising upsets ever.
The Sharks swept the Canucks out of the first round, and it's because of their star players.
San Jose is led by Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. The four Sharks have combined for 26 points in four games, with Couture and Pavelski having eight points apiece and seven goals between them.
San Jose, which has long been labeled a playoff underachiever, has done its best to shake that tag by advancing to the Western Conference finals in both 2010 and 2011. This season, the Sharks look poised to make it back, and possibly go even further. If they want to challenge the Blackhawks for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, their stars will need to continue playing very well.
The Presidents' Trophy-winning 'Hawks started the year with the NHL record for longest start to a season without a regulation loss at 24 games. Chicago hasn't lost a step, and is clicking on all cylinders in the first round against the Minnesota Wild.
The Blackhawks responded to Game 3's overtime loss with a dominating 3-0 performance on the road in Game 4, and look to close out the Wild at the United Center on Thursday night. Led by the solid goaltending of Corey Crawford and the scoring of Patrick Sharp, the Hawks look poised to make another deep run in the playoffs after disappointing first-round exists the past two years.
A pleasant surprise for Chicago has been the goalscoring of Bryan Bickell, who has three in four games in this series, inlcuding the OT winner in Game 1.
Since Jonathan Quick's behind-the-net gaffe led to Alexander Steen's game-winning goal in Game 1, last year's Conn Smythe trophy winner — the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoff MVP award — has been his old self, and the Kings have ridden their goalie to a 3-2 series lead over the Blues.
After dropping the first two games in St. Louis, the Kings responded with a 1-0 shutout in Game 3 in Los Angeles, followed by a 4-3 win Tuesday thanks to third-period goals from Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. The Kings grabbed their first overtime win of the playoffs last night, with a 3-2 victory courtesy of Slava Voynov's goal at the eight-minute mark of the first overtime.
The Kings can close out the Blues for the second-straight year with a win Friday at Staples Center.
The Ottawa-Montreal series has been everything a hockey fan could ask for. After splitting the first two games in Montreal, the Senators won both games at home to take a 3-1 series lead over the Canadiens.
The series started with Eric Gryba delivering a vicous hit on the Habs' Lars Eller, which earned Gryba a two-game suspension from NHL safety czar Brendan Shanahan. After Montreal took Game 2, the Senators crushed Montreal 6-1 in Game 3 in a fight-filled contest that had a total of 236 penalty minutes and nine game misconducts.
Game 3 featured a shouting match between coaches Paul MaClean and Michel Therrien after MaClean called a timeout with 17 seconds left in regulation while ahead by five goals. The Senators won Game 4 in overtime on a fluky goal by Kyle Turris, which slipped by Habs backup Peter Budaj. Starter Carey Price will miss the rest of the series with a lower-body injury.
This series has had goals, hits, fights, scrums and coaching quarrels. Here's hoping it goes seven.
This is the fourth time since 2003 that the Ducks and 'Wings have squared off in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the winner of each series has advanced to the final every time, with the Ducks winning it all in 2007.
The Ducks upset the 'Wings in the first round in 2003 and Anaheim beat Detroit in six games in the 2007 Western Conference final, while Detroit won in seven games in the 2009 conference semifinals. The Ducks hold a 3-2 series lead over the Wings, after Nick Boynton's OT winner in Game 5 Wednesday.
This will likely be Teemu Selanne's last playoff run, and the Ducks always look forward to beating their former head coach, Mike Babcock. This series has had three overtime games, with Detroit taking the first two.
Anaheim can eliminate Detroit on Friday night with a win at Joe Louis Arena.
For the fourth time in the past five seasons, Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals face off against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers.
The Caps won the first two series, in 2009 and 2011, respectively, but the Rangers took last year's meeting in seven games. With the series now tied at 2-2, Ovechkin must play like he did in the second half of the regular season, which saw him go on a scorching scoring streak that vaulted him to his third Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals.
The offseason addition of Rick Nash has proved beneficial for New York, and he and captain Ryan Callahan will need to step up in the now best-of-three series.
As one of the NHL's most-storied franchises, and the most wealthy one, the Maple Leafs relished their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Led by former Bruin Phil Kessel and captain Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs qualified as the fifth-seed and drew the heavily favored Boston Bruins. Boston was the worst-possible opponent for Toronto, and the Maple Leafs are down 3-1 after David Krejci's overtime winner in Game 4 at Air Canada Centre.
Toronto is simply overmatched in every category. Boston has the better goaltender in Tuukka Rask, and their blue line has loads of playoff experience, led by Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Boston's Tyler Seguin is one of the best young forwards in the league, and Patrice Bergeron is a nightmare for any opposing center to go against. The Bruins have only lost a couple of players from their 2011 Stanley Cup championship roster. Oh, and having the NHL's active scoring leader in Jaromir Jagr doesn't hurt either.
Playing the Bruins was a rude awakening for the inexperienced Leafs, but this will help them moving forward under coach Randy Carlyle.
This could be the last run at the Stanley Cup for several veterans: Selanne, Pittsburgh's Jarome Iginla and Jagr are among the names looking to get their name engraved on Lord Stanley's Cup.
Out of those three, only Iginla hasn't lifted the 35-pound trophy. Selanne won in 2007, and Jagr won back-to-back cups with Pittsburgh in '91 and '92. Iginla came as close as can be in 2004, losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, after taking a 3-2 lead back to Calgary before Martin St. Louis forced a seventh game after scoring in the second overtime. Iginla and Jagr were both traded for the same reason: to help their teams lift the Stanley Cup.
With Pittsburgh battling the Islanders, Iginla must be getting worried that he'll never get the chance to lift the heralded trophy. Only time will tell.