The St. Louis Blues have entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs with high expectations the past three seasons, but lost in the first round each time.
This time, the Blues will go all the way and win their first Stanley Cup.
The Blues pride themselves on being an excellent defensive team, which starts with goaltending. Jake Allen (26-15-3, 2.35 goals-against average, .920 save percentage, six shutouts) and Brian Elliott (23-8-6, 2.07 GAA, .930 save percentage, four shutouts) have formed the best duo in the League. Each has been hurt this season, but when one was out the other played well and the Blues never stumbled.
The best example of that came when Elliott returned from injury in March and had three straight shutouts. Allen started the following game and got a shutout. St. Louis had a League-leading 10 shutouts this season.
Video: WSH@STL: Elliott stones Ovechkin on the doorstep
Special teams are critical in the postseason and the Blues have excelled in that part of the game as well. They entered the final day of the season sixth on the power play and third in penalty killing.
The Blues also has an experienced coach in Ken Hitchcock, who has had them in the top two in the Central Division in his five seasons. He coached the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999 and back to the Cup Final in 2000. He's the fourth-winningest coach in League history and knows how to get the most out of his players.
Vladimir Tarasenko set NHL career-highs in goals (40) goals and points (74). He's turned into a star and is the key to the Blues' offense.
But it's a deep group, with five players with at least 15 goals and five with at least 40 points.
The Blues added playoff experience when they acquired forward Troy Brouwer from the Washington Capitals in a July trade for forward T.J. Oshie. The Blues are 23-4-3 when Brouwer, who helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Cup in 2010, has a point.
Video: ARI@STL: Brouwer tips in Pietrangelo's shot
Rookie defenseman Colton Parayko, 22, had 33 points and a plus-28 that was second among NHL defensemen. He has played in all situations and has made himself an important part of the Blues' core.
The Blues will face their old nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the first round. But the story will be different this year; there will be no first-round loss.
St. Louis has all the necessary ingredients: coaching, goaltending, defense and offense. It will come together this spring for a meal fit for a Stanley Cup champion.