Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Patrick Kane are as good as hockey players get. Their teammates are pretty good, too.
In the NHL playoffs, that guarantees nothing.
Superstars and teams that were successful in the regular season get sent home, regularly, in the wild and wide-open postseason because seedings are relatively irrelevant. Los Angeles proved that last year, becoming the first team seeded eighth to hoist a Stanley Cup. Since the salary cap became part of the league's landscape after a lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season, seven teams have won NHL titles and no franchise has done it twice.
Los Angeles' quest to repeat, as the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference, begins later today in St. Louis.
"The salary cap makes it an even playing field," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Everybody has a chance."
The stars hope that's not the case.
Pittsburgh's top forward may not be cleared to help the top-seeded Penguins try to win the first of 16 games Wednesday night at home against the New York Islanders, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Crosby practiced Monday, but he hasn't played in a month because of a broken jaw. For a change, concussion-like symptoms aren't keeping him off the ice as they did for much of the last two years.
The Penguins did close the season strong, but they weren't as successful as the Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals.
Following a slow start with rookie coach Adam Oates, the Southeast Division champs won 11 of its last 13 games to earn the third seed in the East and a matchup with the sixth-seeded New York Rangers.
Ovechkin finished the season with an NHL-high 32 goals after scoring a league-record 14 times in April to become the first player to win the Richard Trophy three times in the 13 seasons it has been awarded to the season leader in goals. He also won it in 2008 and 2009.
"I didn't win personal awards a couple years in a row, so it's nice to come back," Ovechkin said.
Having success as a team in the NHL playoffs would be something new in the nation's capital. Despite Ovechkin's talent, he hasn't led the Capitals past the second round of the playoffs in the first seven seasons of his career and the franchise that hasn't advanced further than that since getting swept by Detroit in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals.
Chicago is hoping to change its fortunes in the playoffs after following up its first Stanley Cup in 49 years with consecutive first-round exits.
The Blackhawks were the best team in the lockout-shortened, 48-game season. They started with an NHL-record, 24-game points streak and closed with a league-high 77 points by rolling four lines, three pairs of defensemen and two goaltenders who were tough to beat.
"We knew we had to get off to a hot start with the short season," Kane said. "It went by pretty fast, that's for sure. It seems like it's January or February still, and we've got a couple of months left in the regular season before we head out to play in the playoffs. It's going to be a quick turnaround."
Avalanche get No. 1 draft pick in June
TORONTO — The Colorado Avalanche won the NHL draft lottery on Monday. The Florida Panthers own the second pick for June's draft, while the Tampa Bay Lightning have the third selection.
Colorado had an 18.8 percent chance of winning the lottery after finishing the regular season with a 16-25-7 record, worst in the Western Conference.
The Panthers, who finished last in the NHL with a 15-27-6 mark, had the best odds of winning the lottery at 25 percent but had to settle for the No. 2 pick.
Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones is the No. 1 ranked North American skater according to the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. Jones is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones.