Before the Philadelphia Flyers went on a magic carpet ride to last year's Stanley Cup Final, they needed the last day of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth.
To do so, they needed to defeat the New York Rangers, which they did with a shootout victory. Had the Rangers won that game, the chance to play Cinderella in the chase for the Cup would've been theirs. Meanwhile, just eight points separated the eleventh and 12th-seeded Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning from the eighth and final spot, while the Washington Capitals ran away with the No.1-seed and Presidents' Trophy.
Those are just a handful of stories that highlighted the competitive balance and small margin of victory in the Eastern Conference last year. And while every new season offers new memorable wrinkles, this year's battle for Conference supremacy figures to be equally as, if not more so, grueling.
Here's a comprehensive look at which Eastern Conference teams merit the "Best of the East" title and which teams might surprise in the 2010-11 season:
Last year's most prolific team escaped the offseason unscathed and brings back an explosive core this season. Alexander Ovechkin leads the offensive attack in Washington and following him is Nicklas Backstrom — who is coming off a career year, Alexander Semin and Mike Green. That foursome, plus veteran Mike Knuble, can once again represent the League's top power play unit, while a healthy dose of role players can more than complement the team's stars.
After a longer-than-usual summer, the Penguins begin their inaugural season at the Consol Energy Center rested and with their core in tact. Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, this year's team figures to be equally as difficult to play against defensively after Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek joined the blue line in the offseason.
New Jersey Devils
The signing of Ilya Kovalchuk gives the Devils a chance to put together one of the League's top offensive units, as Zach Parise and Travis Zajac are likely candidates to play alongside the Russian sniper. With Martin Brodeur holding the fort in net, this year's Devils team will be a formidable balanced attack.
Last year's amazing run can propel the Flyers to a more consistent year this year and Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Chris Pronger figure to play important roles in that pursuit. Plus, you can't disregard last year's Eastern Conference champs.
Tampa Bay Lightning
New GM Steve Yzerman has instituted a new culture in Tampa Bay and the acquisition of Simon Gagne will only add to the potency already brought by last year's sophomore standout Steven Stamkos and veterans Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone.
The Thrashers finished last year strong after trading away Ilya Kovalchuk and missed the playoffs by just five points. This year, newcomers Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager and Andrew Ladd — last year's Cup winners — can offer a young team important championship lessons.
In sports, though, nothing is certain. Questions will be answered down the road. To guide you along, be sure to check out the EA Sports NHL 11 Season Preview show here on NHL.com.