While this statement is obviously true, and the championship contenders will usually see it happen, the role players are the ones to watch.
More often than not, we'll get to see a handful of relative unknowns who use the Stanley Cup playoffs as a springboard to bigger and better things in the future.
We'll also see guys perform big in the playoffs, then fizzle out after that, as the weight of expectations just becomes too much to bear.
With that in mind, who are the breakout stars and one-hit wonders from the 2010 playoffs?
Ten players jump out for the impact they were able to make in the postseason this spring.
Way back in the first round, before we knew the San Jose Sharks were going to be good enough to make a conference final, Anderson looked like he was going to doom them to another first-round failure. He backstopped Colorado to wins in two of the series' first three games, despite the fact that the Avalanche scored just two goals in Game 1 and needed Dan Boyle's own-goal to win Game 3.
San Jose persevered, but they had to fight off Anderson's amazing play in the series. His .933 save percentage over the six games shows it wasn't his fault at all that the Sharks were able to clinch the series with a third-period rally in Game 6.
Anderson has already proven his worth, as he had a solid season for the Avalanche. He proved he can handle a full-time workload, and he showed he wasn't fatigued at all in the playoffs. It was an impressive start for the late-blooming goalie.
During the regular season, Bolland played just 39 games. Perhaps that time away helped him be fresh for the playoffs, because Bolland came up big.
He was a factor offensively, scoring eight times over the postseason. More importantly, Bolland was the kind of character player any team needs to make it far in the playoffs. He stuck his nose into the play whenever possible, was a huge part of the Chicago penalty kill, was willing to mix it up physically (even with bigger and stronger opponents) and he came up big when it mattered most. He scored a slew of big goals for his team, and was on the ice for some huge penalty kills.
"Big Buff" scored 11 goals and had 16 points, all coming in the final three rounds, as he was scoreless in Chicago's six-game series win over Nashville in the conference quarterfinals.
Byfuglien was that prototypical big body who just can't be moved from the front of the net. He also showed the ability to get out in the circles and get shots on net.
But does any of this carry over? Byfuglien was average for most of the year, started bouncing between forward and defense, and never got into a flow during the regular season. Seventeen goals and 34 points over a full season hardly screams "playoff success," and it's not a given at all that his big postseason will translate to Byfuglien being a big star moving forward.
At a time when the Capitals were battling injuries and ineffectiveness along the blue line, Carlson stepped in and stepped up. Then, with Washington staring down the barrel of a 2-0 series hole in the first round against Montreal, Carlson drove a puck past Jaroslav Halak to tie the score and force overtime, where Washington won to even the series.
Carlson only netted four points in the Capitals' seven-game loss, but he gave his coaches and fans a glimpse of a future star on defense. Pair him with Mike Green, and the Capitals have added depth and talent, and they might make Green even more dangerous, because Carlson is very capable in his own zone.
His future is still ahead of him, and it's bright.
The Flyers have to be happy with what Giroux gave them in the playoffs. After an okay regular season, the 22-year-old blew up for 10 goals and 21 points in the playoffs. Giroux is a former QMJHL star who averaged a point per game last year in his only AHL stint.
Everyone knew he had a chance to develop into a solid scorer for Philly, but no one could see it coming so fast when the playoffs began.
While some guys might not be able to capitalize on such a great stretch of play, Giroux is in the right organization to take the next step, possibly as early as next season. There's so much talent around him that he won't feel a ton of pressure.
Jaroslav Halak, G, Canadiens
The seeds for Halak's explosion were sewn during the regular season, as he eventually overtook Carey Price for the starting job, and carried end-of-season momentum into the playoffs.
With the help of some virtual shot-blocking machines in front of him, Halak had the best postseason of any individual goalie, and he may have rewritten the blueprint for Montreal's franchise moving forward. Instead of one-time "future star" Price, it appears Halak is the guy to take this franchise into the 2010-11 season.
Unless he suddenly flops badly, Halak will only build on what he accomplished in these playoffs.
Cast aside by the Red Wings, Leino scored seven goals and 21 points during Philly's playoff run. He scored 10 more points in 19 playoff games than he did in 55 regular season games.
So who is the real Ville Leino? Did he just catch fire at the right time on a team that was looking for third- and fourth-line scoring help?
It might be a lot to ask for Leino to keep it up. He might be a guy who can work well as a grinder, and maybe he can pop 15 goals in a season. He doesn't have Giroux's upside, however, and asking more than that might be too much.
He had his bad moments in these playoffs. Gave up a pretty soft goal in the opener against Nashville, got blown out by Vancouver in Game 1 of that series, and he clearly needs to work on his rebound control, among other things.
But Niemi was stellar in a number of big spots. He was great in Game 4 against Nashville, as Chicago was threatened with a 3-1 series deficit. He had a superb rebound game in Game 2 against Vancouver. For virtually the entire San Jose series, Niemi looked like a star.
An inconsistent Final performance ended with some great saves in the clincher, including a memorable one late in regulation on Jeff Carter, who was bidding for what would almost certainly have been the game-winning goal.
Niemi is the clear-cut No. 1 in Chicago. He will continue to hold that job as long as he improves.
While it may have been a surprise for many people, it probably shouldn't have been. Pavelski played well in the Olympics, had a solid season for the Sharks, and is the kind of player -- not a superstar, but fully capable in all facets of the game -- who can make real noise in the playoffs.
While opponents focused on Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley, Pavelski was the guy who scored all the big goals. In 15 games, Pavelski scored nine times and totaled 17 points.
Not bad for a guy who has never scored more than 25 in a regular season.
At only 25, he stands to get better as his role increases with the Sharks.
People may have forgotten, since Vancouver's run ended in the conference semifinals, but Samuelsson had a great coming-out party in the postseason. After a 30-goal regular season, Samuelsson scored eight times in 12 playoff games, flourishing while playing with the Sedin twins.
After some solid seasons in Detroit, his step forward wasn't quite as pronounced as expected, but Samuelsson showed in the playoffs that he can play a significant role on this team. Youngster Alex Burrows had a great offensive season, too, but he wasn't as good in the playoffs, and his lack of discipline on the ice means he might not be able to sustain a 35-goal pace on a season-to-season basis.
Samuelsson is a more level-headed player, and likely a better fit on the Sedins' line.