It's not just that the Boston Bruins are a fortress of a team. They are. Deep, physical, experienced, blessed with terrific goaltending and a nice jolt of youthful energy, they have the prototypical playoff team.
As we noted, a playoff fortress.
What sets the Bruins apart and what has led the ESPN.com hockey writers to anoint them our consensus Stanley Cup pick is that the Bruins, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, are a fortress surrounded by, well, mud huts.
This spring, a legitimate case could be made for five -- maybe six -- teams as Stanley Cup champions in waiting. And four or five of those teams are Western Conference teams.
And fair or not, that had a lot to do with our picking the Bruins.
Indeed, back in training camp, each of us ESPN.com hockey writers picked a team from the Western Conference to win it all.
Katie Strang had the San Jose Sharks. And there's no reason to believe Todd McLellan's talented, well-rounded team couldn't come up with the third championship for California since 2007. Except, well, the Sharks are going to play the Los Angeles Kings, a team that many believe could repeat its 2012 championship run, in the first round. In the fall, Craig Custance believed the Kings were capable of returning to glory back when he picked them to win it all.
And really, what's not to like about the Kings, who boast one of the NHL's top money goaltenders in Jonathan Quick and a team battle-tested and built to withstand the rigors of playoff hockey?
And what about the defending Stanley Cup champs from Chicago? Pierre LeBrun liked the team's core, its coaching and the young players who were set to assume larger roles so much, he believed the Blackhawks could do the almost impossible and win back-to-back championships. And they could yet do so. Except they were missing their top two performers in Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews down the stretch. Throw in their run to the finals late last June, the compressed schedule and the fact they had 10 players take part in the Olympics and, well, is it too much to ask for a second Cup in a row?
And oh yeah, they're going to play another Stanley Cup darling in the St. Louis Blues who, while slumping badly down the stretch, will not allow the Blackhawks to ease into the postseason as Chicago did last spring, when it started the playoffs against an overmatched Minnesota Wild team.
And what of the Blues (our personal pick to win the Cup a year ago), who are looking for their first championship, and while banged up physically and mentally thanks to a late-season swoon that cost them the Central Division crown, are built for the playoffs?
And what of the Anaheim Ducks, who once again will enter the postseason as the second seed in the Western Conference and are exponentially better than they were a year ago, but who will face the winner of the Sharks-Kings series in the second round of the California cage-death match, assuming they don't get knocked off by the Dallas Stars?