Having been among the NHL's elite teams for the better part of the past decade, the Vancouver Canucks established themselves atop that list this season by capturing the Presidents' Trophy and putting the franchise in prime position to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time.
The Big Why: The Canucks have a ton going for them this season. Let's start with the obvious -- twin superstars Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, who make up the most explosive offensive tandem in the League. Henrik won the Hart Trophy last season and the case easily could be made for it to stay in the family and go to Daniel this season.
But there's been a lot more to Vancouver's success, including a breakout goal-scoring season by Ryan Kesler; consistent secondary scoring from veterans like Mikael Samuelsson, Alexandre Burrows and Mason Raymond; and stellar goaltending from Roberto Luongo, who posted the best goals-against average of his career by far and significantly raised his save percentage from last season.
A defense hard hit by injuries at times still has managed to get the job done in front of Luongo and help make the Canucks the stingiest in the League when it comes to goals allowed.
The Big Uh-Oh: Possible Selke Trophy candidate Manny Malhotra was lost to a season-ending eye injury, which will test Vancouver's depth. In spite of his excellent stats and the fact he hardly was overworked during the regular season -- he played just 60 games -- Luongo is coming off a shaky performance in the 2010 postseason, which raised questions about his ability to get it done at crunch time.
Final Argument: Although he has his doubters, Luongo already has come through on an international stage by helping Canada win the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics. In his fourth trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he'll have fans in Vancouver going wild for the Canucks as he's set the stage for a Conn Smythe-worthy performance to deliver the city its first championship.
We're buyers. We're committed to winning. That's what [owner Vinnie Viola] has said all along and what we've said all along. We want to win. We want to win a championship. We're putting the pieces together, step by step, and we're hopeful that Jaromir can lead these young guys to the promised land. It's a win-win for us.
— Panthers GM Dale Tallon on Jaromir Jagr, who he traded for from the Devils on Thursday