With six 20-goal scorers in addition to star defenseman Zdeno Chara and leading goalie Tim Thomas, last year's playoff MVP, a repeat by the Bruins is hardly out of the question. They will start with the usually powerful Washington Capitals, who needed a late surge just to get in as the No. 7 seed.
"We've learned enough from the experience from last year," said Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins' second-leading scorer. "It was a battle. It was a grind for two months. I think we're ready to start that all over again. It starts from square one.
"It's all about the first game and the first series, thinking about that, nothing else. I think it's pretty much the same as last year."
Perhaps having low expectations will help the Capitals, who were swept in the second round of last year's playoffs by upstart Tampa Bay after coming in as the No. 1 seed in the East.
Vancouver nearly made the most of its top seeding last spring, falling just short of its first title with a Game 7 loss to Boston in the finals.
The Canucks were every bit of a force in their run to another first-place finish in the West with an NHL-high 111 points. They grabbed a second straight Presidents' Trophy on the final night of the season by beating Edmonton after the Rangers had lost to Washington.
Now they want to take that last step and bring the Cup to western Canada.
"We know we're going to be judged kind of how we do in the playoffs," Canucks forward Ryan Kesler said. "Now the real season begins. It's going to be a good test, this first round, for us."
The Canucks will take on Los Angeles, which got through a logjam in the Pacific Division to claim the final spot out West.
Vancouver would get a major boost if Daniel Sedin is able to play from the get-go. Sedin, out since March 21 because of a concussion, practiced with his teammates on Monday but then didn't on Tuesday. He instead chose to skate after practice was over, and then didn't speak to reporters.
"It's a unique injury, and he will continue the protocol," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday. "When he's ready to play, he'll address you. Until that time, he won't talk to you."
The St. Louis Blues are hoping to make plenty of noise to cap off their stunning season.
After a 6-7 start led to the firing of coach Davis Payne, the Blues took off under veteran bench boss Ken Hitchcock, went 43-15-11 the rest of the way, and flirted with No. 1 status until the season's final days.
St. Louis won the Central Division, claimed the No. 2 seed that came with it, and will face off with the disappointing San Jose Sharks in the first round.
Like the Capitals, the Sharks have had many unfulfilled playoff seasons when so much was expected with little payoff. San Jose is another team that had to claw just to get in, but now that the Sharks have made it, perhaps their experience will finally pay off.
The Blues did their damage in a tough division that includes perennial powerhouse Detroit, and the ever-improving Nashville Predators. The Red Wings will take on the Predators in a 4 vs. 5 series, and will be hard-pressed to advance. Nashville is a threat to make a run because of No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne.
Although the Red Wings amassed 100 points for the 12th straight season, the perception is they have had a down year.
"It seems like a normal season for us," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We had a real streak going with home wins, but we didn't play as well on the road as we would like.
"We're in a strong division, having Nashville and St. Louis that are two teams ahead of us."
The remaining Western series pits No. 6 Chicago, another Central Division club, against the Phoenix Coyotes, who won a division title for the first time since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996. The Coyotes haven't won a playoff series since their move to the desert.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.