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 succeed in the regular season get sent home, regularly, in the wild and wide-open postseason because seedings are irrelevant.
Los Angeles proved that last year, becoming the first No. 8 seed to hoist a Stanley Cup. Since the salary cap became part of the landscape after a lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season, seven teams have won NHL titles and no franchise has done it twice.
"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.
Pittsburgh's star might not be cleared to help the top-seeded Penguins try to win the first of 16 games Wednesday at home against the Islanders, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Crosby practiced Monday, but hasn't played in a month because of a broken jaw.
Pittsburgh has proven it can win without him, especially with Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen and Jarome Iginla — all acquired before the trade deadline.
"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 it says a lot about our team."
The Ovechkin-led Capitals, after a slow start with rookie coach Adam Oates, grabbed the Southeast Division title with 11 wins in their final 13 games to earn the third seed in the East and a matchup with the Rangers.
Ovechkin finished the season with an NHL-high 32 goals, three more than Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.
But Ovechkin hasn't led Washington past the second round in his seven seasons.
Out West, Chicago was best in the lockout-shortened, 48-game season. The Blackhawks started with a record 24-game point streak and closed with a league-high 77 points — five more than Pittsburgh.
"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's going to be a quick turnaround."
The top-seeded Blackhawks open the playoffs tonight against No. 8 seed Minnesota.
For the first time since 1996, each of the NHL's Original Six — Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and the Rangers — are in the playoffs.
Two of them meet as No. 5 East seed Toronto, in for the first time since 2004, faces Boston. And Detroit extended its franchise record postseason streak to 22, fifth-longest in league history, and face No. 2 seed Anaheim in the West beginning tonight.
Vancouver, the only team to repeat as a division champ, is No. 3 in the West and meets San Jose.
And the Kings' quest to repeat as the No. 5 seed in the West begins tonight in St. Louis.
While the Kings showed if you get in, you can win, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said more than good fortune is needed.
"You don't win in the end without talent, don't kid yourself," Babcock said. "They had a great team."