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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 Tuesday night in St. Louis.
"The salary cap makes it an even playing field," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Everybody has a chance."
Crosby, Ovechkin and Kane hope that's not the case.
Crosby, Pittsburgh's star forward, may not be cleared to help the top-seeded Penguins shoot for the first of 16 wins 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 have proven they can win without Sid The Kid, especially with Brenden Morrow, Jossi Jokinen and Jarome Iginla all of whom were acquired before the trade deadline on their loaded roster.
"It's been great to see the guys come in and adjust the way they have," Crosby said. "Think it says a lot about the players they are and I think it says a lot about our team. Guys are all willing to adjust their roles and do what it takes to win."
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 champion won 11 of its last 13 games to earn the third seed in the East and a first-round 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. 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.
Kane's 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.