The NHL's Stanley Cup playoff bracket looks a little different this season. Thanks to conference realignment and new divisions, the Stanley Cup will be deciding division champions in its first two rounds, before the conference and Cup finals. But the field is still made up of 16 teams and eight first round matchups, which were all officially finalized when the NHL regular season ended on April 13.
The biggest slot to be decided was the West's Central Division champion, which the St. Louis Blues looked set to be for weeks. But with their sixth straight loss to close the season, their 3-0 defeat to the Detroit Red Wings -- who face the much hotter Boston Bruins in their opening playoff series -- doomed the Blues to facing the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks as a second place Central team.
The Blues and Blackhawks make up one killer Central Division semifinal, while the surprise division champion Colorado Avalanche will presumably have it easier against the Minnesota Wild. Nevertheless, it is the Anaheim Ducks who lead the West, owning home ice until the Cup finals. As such, the Ducks host the Dallas Stars first and would then host either the San Jose Sharks or Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division finals.
Over in the East, the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have been locked in as Atlantic and Metropolitan Division champions for what seems like months now. It looks every bit like the Bruins and Penguins will have a rematch of last year's conference finals -- which wouldn't bode well for Pittsburgh after Boston swept it out of the last postseason.
The likes of the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Red Wings will try to derail another Bruins-Penguins Eastern finale. However, it looks like the Stanley Cup playoffs are more stacked on the Western side of the bracket, as six of their eight teams finished with 100 points or more. What's more, the West has the last two Cup champions in the Blackhawks and Kings -- and they each finished third in their divisions.
Although the NHL changed the format of the regular season and the first half of the postseason, the Stanley Cup playoffs are bound to be as wild and unforgettable as ever. The accompanying list breaks down the 16 teams who hope to raise the Cup two months from now.
Bruins lead playoff field
Boston Bruins (117 points, face Detroit Red Wings in first round) Tuukka Rask and the Bruins cruised to the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference top seed -- so if they need a miracle to escape the first round like they did last postseason, it would be a major upset onto itself.
Ducks lead West in Selanne's last ride
Anaheim Ducks (116 points, face Dallas Stars in first round) The Ducks beat out a crowded field to take the Pacific Division and Western Conference's top seed, putting them in place to cap Teemu Selanne's career with one last Stanley Cup run.
Roy brings Avalanche to playoffs again
Colorado Avalanche (112 points, face Minnesota Wild in first round) Patrick Roy won two Stanley Cups for the Avalanche as a goaltender, and has already won a surprise division title for them as a coach. Of course, since the Avalanche won that title because the St. Louis Blues collapsed -- and since the Blues or Chicago Blackhawks would await in round two -- there are still some skeptics.
Blues need a rebound
St. Louis Blues (111 points, face Chicago Blackhawks in first round) The Blues were the class of the West for much of the season, until six straight losses with little offense doomed them to second place in the Central Division, and a killer matchup with the defending champion Blackhawks.
Sharks take another shot
San Jose Sharks (111 points, face Los Angeles Kings in first round) The Sharks and coach Todd McLellan had another exceptional regular season, but that has never worked out for them in the playoffs before. With the Kings looming in round one, it may be another hard playoff round for the Sharks.
Penguins start real season
Pittsburgh Penguins (109 points, face Columbus Blue Jackets in first round) Sidney Crosby and the Penguins had a division title practically locked up since New Years, so they will have to turn the switch back on pretty quickly -- especially considering last year's conference final collapse against the Bruins.
Blackhawks look to defend title
Chicago Blackhawks (107 points, face St. Louis Blues in first round) Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks got banged up and slipped to third place in the Central Division, yet the defending champions are still a favorite for their third Stanley Cup in five years.
Tampa Bay Lightning (101 points, face Montreal Canadiens in first round) The Lightning excelled even with Martin St. Louis out for 20 games, but he is back in time for the postseason.
Kings return to postseason
Los Angeles Kings (100 points, face San Jose Sharks in first round) Jonathan Quick and the Kings have been dominant in all but one playoff round over the last two years. As such, opening on the road against the Sharks isn't likely to phase the 2012 champions and 2013 West runners-up.
Canadiens seek redemption
Montreal Canadiens (100 points, face Tampa Bay Lightning in first round) Carey Price and the Canadiens won a division title last year, only to get manhandled by the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs -- so perhaps opening this postseason as an underdog will help Montreal more.
Upset minded Wild
Minnesota Wild (98 points, face Colorado Avalanche in first round) The Wild were the Blackhawks' first playoff victim en route to their Stanley Cup last year, so it might bode well for the Avalanche to face them first. However, Zach Parise and the Wild want to be more than a footnote this postseason.
Rangers try to go over the hump
New York Rangers (96 points, face Philadelphia Flyers in first round) Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers are playoff veterans who haven't gotten to the next level. With the rival Flyers waiting in round one and the Penguins perhaps waiting in round two, it won't be easy for the Rangers again.
Flyers surge into postseason
Philadelphia Flyers (94 points, face New York Rangers in first round) The Flyers and Claude Giroux overcame a horrible start and early coaching change to get back to the playoffs, despite coming back to Earth and losing a shot at home ice in the last two weeks.
Blue Jackets finally reach postseason
Columbus Blue Jackets (93 points, face Pittsburgh Penguins in first round) The Blue Jackets fell just shy of the postseason last year, despite having Vezina Trophy winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. But Columbus got over the hump this year, and has to face Pittsburgh for its trouble.
Red Wings break into East playoffs
Detroit Red Wings (93 points, face Boston Bruins in first round) The Red Wings squeaked into the playoffs, only to get the defending conference champion and Presidents Trophy winning Bruins in their first Eastern Conference postseason series.
Thomas returns to playoffs
Dallas Stars (91 points, face Anaheim Ducks in first round) The Stars round out the NHL postseason field, yet they do have former Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner Tim Thomas to help them in net.