If there was ever a year the Vancouver Canucks were going to win the Stanley Cup, this is it. All of the pieces have seemingly come together at the right time.
This might be hard to believe for hockey fans in the East who have only heard rumors of the Western Conference's existence, but the Canucks might possess the best player in the League in Henrik Sedin.
The winner of the Art Ross Trophy had a career high 112 points to capture the League's scoring title, and he did it all in what is clearly the superior conference. Sedin has shown he's ready to carry his team past the second round, which has been a roadblock for the franchise over the last four seasons.
Also, the Canucks are a better team offensively than the one that was bounced by the Chicago Blackhawks in six games last season.
They boast six players who scored at least 20 goals, including off-season acquisition Mikael Samuelsson, who went through his share of playoff wars with the Detroit Red Wings and is sure to add a bit of experience that was lacking in the past.
Remember when critics questioned Roberto Luongo's ability to win a big game? Well that went right out the window with his gold-medal winning performance at this year's Winter Olympics. Luongo replaced the game's all-time greatest goalie, Martin Brodeur, then backstopped Team Canada to gold after the team's dismal showing in the preliminary round.
Sure, there were times when Luongo looked like he was wearing a blocker on each hand, but he didn't succumb to the pressure of the Olympics, which were being played in front of his home fans in Vancouver.
The Canucks were tops in the West in goals scored and among the best in goals allowed. Their defensemen (Christian Ehrhoff, another new face, led the team's blueliners with 14 goals) scored the second-most goals in the West, behind only Phoenix. There aren't many holes in this team.
If they play with confidence and grit, they could very well be the first Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup since 1993.
WHY THE KINGS WILL WIN
Can you say beginner's luck? That's what will have to come into play if the sixth-seeded Los Angeles Kings hope to be on center stage when the last game of the Stanley Cup Final is contested in mid-June.
First of all, the Kings haven't been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2002. To say that the postseason dance is conducted to a different tune these days would be an understatement. But even more importantly, many of Los Angeles' young players have never played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. In fact, half of the Kings' top-10 scorers have no idea what the Stanley Cup Playoffs require from both body and soul.
Top scorer Anze Kopitar has never seen the second season. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson -- two of the team's most-important defensemen -- also are novices. Heck, they can't even lean on their captain for advice. Dustin Brown is also making his second-season debut. Plus, No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick has not been tested in the playoff crucible.
Yet, the inexperience does not necessarily have to be a negative.
The Kings don't know what lies ahead in their postseason journey. But that means they have no idea about the good or the bad.
"It's a long time coming for me and a few other guys that have been here for awhile," Brown said. "We've grown a lot. This is the most fun I have had since I've been in the League. Just the prospect of playing in the playoffs and having these last 10 games (of the regular season) mean something is always a lot of fun."
So the Kings will be fired up to taste the Stanley Cup Playoffs and will have the fresh legs that come with youthful enthusiasm.
And, it is not all youth in Hollywood. There are some veterans in play on this Kings' roster. Defenseman Rob Scuderi won the Cup last season with Pittsburgh and can lend a calming hand. Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll were part of the Edmonton team that pushed Carolina to a Game 7 in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. Sean O'Donnell has also won a Cup.
Because of that veteran presence, the Kings don't believe they are a typical first-time invitee to the postseason party. As a result, they believe they can manufacture the beginner's luck necessary to survive what will be an arduous two month journey.