A regular season that saw a Canadian uprising, the end of an epic playoff streak in Detroit, more superlatives in Washington, and kids named Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk and Zach Werenski step seamlessly into stardom has come to a close. All of those moments have been distilled down to 16 playoff teams, each with a reason to believe they might be the chosen ones this year.
The Stanley Cup journey begins on Wednesday. So, with a nod toward what lays ahead, the final Power Rankings highlights only the 16. As they should.
1. (Last week: 1) Washington Capitals, 55-19-8
The Capitals have home-ice advantage for the playoffs, starting with what should be a relatively easy go against the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs and top rookie Matthews in the first round. Washington is deep, talented and committed. The Caps will finally have their moment in the Stanley Cup sun.
2. (2) Chicago Blackhawks, 50-23-9
The Blackhawks are very young up front, but their core still screams Stanley Cup contender. They have an interesting first-round matchup against the Nashville Predators, a team that has historically given them difficulty in the playoffs. Still, this is a series the Hawks should win.
3. (4) Pittsburgh Penguins, 50-21-11
The loss of Kris Letang was a staggering blow for the Penguins, who will face a very good, tough Columbus Blue Jackets team in the first round. Fans might already be looking ahead to a possible second-round clash between Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby and Washington captain Alex Ovechkin. But you know the Pens aren't looking that far ahead -- and they shouldn't.
4. (3) Edmonton Oilers, 47-26-9
Newly crowned scoring champ McDavid, heir apparent to Patrick Kane as Hart Trophy winner and league MVP, has led the Oilers to their first playoff appearance since 2006. Edmonton will face last year's Stanley Cup finalists, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are banged up and the Oilers are on a roll. And did we mention McDavid?
5. (7) Anaheim Ducks, 46-23-13
The Ducks hit the playoffs with points in 14 consecutive games (11-0-3), so what's not to like? OK, missing defenseman Cam Fowler is a big deal. And John Gibson has to prove he's the guy in goal. But, other than that, this team is in beast mode -- which isn't good news for its first-round opponent, the Calgary Flames.
6. (11) Minnesota Wild, 49-25-8
Forget the Wild's forgettable March. Minnesota won four in a row to close out the season and goalie Devan Dubnyk is back on track. The Wild will have their hands full with the St. Louis Blues, whose head coach, Mike Yeo, returns to his former stomping grounds looking for revenge. But I love the Wild's depth down the middle.
7. (5) Columbus Blue Jackets, 50-24-8
Their offense went dry down the stretch, but the Blue Jackets boast the best goalie in the league this season in Sergei Bobrovsky. Will it be enough to dislodge the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins? It's too close to call (although I picked Pittsburgh).
8. (8) St. Louis Blues, 46-29-7
The Blues hit the playoffs on a 10-1-2 run, and they've been the top defensive club since Yeo took over as head coach. But will the exodus of veterans over the past couple of years catch up with St. Louis? Is goalie Jake Allen ready, finally, to be the man? Yes, and no.
9. (15) San Jose Sharks, 46-29-7
It wasn't that long ago that the Sharks were cruising along atop the Pacific Division and looking very much like a team poised for another long playoff run. Now, injuries to Joe Thornton and Logan Couture -- and a general malaise -- make them underdogs against McDavid and the rocking Oilers.
10. (6) Montreal Canadiens, 47-26-9
The Habs are the forgotten team that won the forgotten division. Still, the Atlantic Division champs get home-ice advantage in their clash with the New York Rangers and they have Carey Price. It might be just enough.
11. (10) New York Rangers, 48-28-6
Veteran Henrik Lundqvist, who has not always played well in Montreal, faces a mighty challenge against the Canadiens, as he'll need to outplay Price. If he does, the Rangers will win this series.
12. (14) Nashville Predators, 41-29-12
A long time ago, I picked the Predators to win the Central and defeat Chicago in the conference finals. Well, this matchup against Chicago comes a bit earlier -- and this Preds team isn't quite as dominating as I thought they were going to be.
13. (12) Calgary Flames, 45-33-4
The Flames sort of meandered their way into the playoffs, going 6-7-0 in their last 13 games. Lots of folks like the Flames to upset Anaheim. I don't.
14. (13) Boston Bruins, 44-31-7
The health of Boston's blue line is a factor, but the Bruins match up nicely against the Ottawa Senators. And, by avoiding Washington in the first round, the Bs -- led by perennial Selke Trophy candidate Patrice Bergeron -- have a good shot at a conference finals appearance as long as Brad Marchand doesn't spear his way into more suspension trouble.
15. (17) Ottawa Senators, 44-28-10
Having said that about Boston, would it surprise me if Ottawa ended up beating the Bruins and then went on to the Eastern Conference finals? No. But the Senators are all banged up and Craig Anderson is only human. Isn't he?
16. (18) Toronto Maple Leafs, 40-27-15
There's no shame for the youthful Leafs, who have made hockey relevant again in the center of the hockey universe, in being 16th on this list. Matthews will almost certainly win rookie of the year honors and his young pals are a ton of fun to watch. You'd better not blink, though, because their opening-round series against powerful Washington is going to be over in a flash.