It would be easy to write off the Montreal Canadiens as Stanley Cup contenders because of how far they have already traveled since last season, but this team has all the ingredients you would look for in a contending team, except for maybe one.
And that one deficiency may in fact be the team's biggest strength.
The Canadiens lack a true offensive superstar forward -- Max Pacioretty's team-leading 39 points did not crack the top 30 in the NHL -- but that is one of the primary reasons the team is so difficult to face.
Unlike teams that rely on a big-scoring top line, the Canadiens have three forward lines that contribute equally to their offense. This makeup is effective for Montreal for two reasons: first, opposing coaches cannot load up their top checkers against any particular line; second, it protects the Canadiens from slumps.
How many times have we seen a contending team knocked out early from the Stanley Cup Playoffs because a star player hit a funk at the worst time imaginable? The Canadiens shouldn't have that problem because they get offense from multiple sources; eight players hit double digits in goals for Montreal and two others, Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk, had eight and nine goals, respectively.
The latter two linemates were Montreal's hottest forwards down the stretch, with Eller scoring two goals and four assists in his final three games, and Galchenyuk accounting for six goals and six assists in his final 13.
The Canadiens have one of the top young goaltenders in the NHL, Carey Price, and one of its most talented young defensemen, P.K. Subban, but it is their balance up front that will make them a difficult out in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.