Some of the matchups are intriguing. It looks like it will be the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division, and the New York Rangers clashing with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Metro Division. Home ice is still up for grabs in both potential first round showdowns, and then there’s the Chicago Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche in the West. The Los Angeles Kings will be the No. 3 seed in the Pacific Division playoff rounds, but they’re the team both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks will be looking to avoid.
Many people will be curious to see how the new playoff format works out, but I’m always in favor of the Bruins being forced to get past the Montreal Canadiens – and the same with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Flyers in the Metro Division – once the playoffs get going. Now let’s just see how it works out in living NHL color rather than the league board rooms.
With the teams long since back from the Olympic break and teams looking to avoid injuries at all costs at this time of year, here are the rankings:
30. Buffalo Sabres (21-48-9, last week: 30) – The team’s leading scorer is Tyler Ennis with 21 goals and 42 points. That’s really all that needs to be said.
29. Florida Panthers (28-43-8, last week: 29) – Two wins in their last 10 games for a Panthers team limping to the finish line.
28. Edmonton Oilers (28-42-9, last week: 28) – Who is going to be dumb enough to pick this Oil team as their dark horse playoff team next year? It won’t be me after falling for it this season.
27. New York Islanders (31-36-11, last week: 26) – One positive for the Isles this season: the continued development of Travis Hamonic into a reliable defenseman capable of playing big minutes.
26. Calgary Flames (34-38-7, last week: 27) – By the power of Brian Burke’s hair, I have the power!
25. Winnipeg Jets (35-35-10, last week: 25) – The Jets have now shut down Dustin Byfuglien for the season, and relegated Evander Kane to a healthy scratch for breaking team rules. Nothing like cracking the whip after the team’s already been eliminated.
24. Vancouver Canucks (35-33-11, last week: 21) – It’s hard to believe this team is only two years removed from back-to-back President’s Trophy seasons isn’t it? Now they’re not even good enough for the playoffs.
23. Carolina Hurricanes (34-33-11, last week: 24) – The Hurricanes are out again this season, but they’ve got a bone fide 30-goal scorer in Jeff Skinner. There aren’t many of those around.
22. Ottawa Senators (33-31-14, last week: 23) – The Ottawa Senators just look to me like a team that doesn’t play with a lot of heart or character, and that’s a reflection on the leadership group. They just gave away way too many games this season.
21. Nashville Predators (35-32-11, last week: 22) – Three straight wins for a Nashville Predators team when it doesn’t really matter anymore. Better luck next year.
20. Toronto Maple Leafs (38-33-8, last week: 20) – At the end of the day the defense simply isn’t good enough for the Maple Leafs to consistently win in the NHL.
19. New Jersey Devils (34-29-16, last week: 19) – If you can’t beat the Calgary Flames with the playoffs on the line, then you don’t deserve to be invited to the postseason.
18. Phoenix Coyotes (36-28-14, last week: 17) – The last two weeks of the season is no time for a four game losing streak, Phoenix.
17. Washington Capitals (35-30-13, last week: 18) – Alex Ovechkin primed for coach killer mode again this season. It’s amazing how he just undermines one guy right after another.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets (40-31-7, last week: 16) – The Blue Jackets aren’t a very intimidating team come playoff-time, but they do a lot of things right.
15. Dallas Stars (38-29-11, last week: 15) – Dallas continues to sit in the final playoff spot, and hasn’t done anything to hurt their chances. They have all the makings of a first round victim, but getting back into the tournament is the first step.
14. Detroit Red Wings (37-27-14, last week: 14) – Pavel Datsyuk is back, Henrik Zetterberg is about to resume skating and the youngsters (Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Gustav Nyquist) have gained some important experience. This could be a dangerous team in the playoffs.
13. Philadelphia Flyers (40-29-9, last week: 13) – The Flyers are still playing good hockey, but they’ve into some very good teams over the last few weeks. It was also about time Zac Rinaldo got whacked for all of the running around he’s been doing lately.
12. New York Rangers (43-31-5, last week 11) – It looks like the Blueshirts finally have their affairs in order, and now it’s a matter of staying healthy for that first round matchup with the Flyers.
11. Minnesota Wild (41-26-12, last week: 12) – The Wild have taken five of six points from the LA Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks over the last week. They look like they’re in playoff mode already.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (42-27-9, last week: 8) – The Bolts have lost home ice advantage to the Montreal Canadiens for the time being, and that could be a big disadvantage given where the Habs play.
9. Los Angeles Kings (45-28-6, last week: 9) – As long as Drew Doughty is okay, this team will be fine and a potential spoiler for the Ducks or Sharks in the first round.
8. Montreal Canadiens (45-27-7, last week: 10) – The Habs are playing some of their best hockey of the season right now. That could spell bad news for the Lightning, and a heck of a second round matchup against the Bruins.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (50-24-5, last week: 5) – The Penguins really just look like they’re running out of gas right now. There are just too many injuries to overcome this season.
6. Chicago Blackhawks (45-19-15, last week: 6) – The Blackhawks had better hope that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are 100 percent when they return for the playoffs.
5. San Jose Sharks (49-21-9, last week: 4) – Whoever loses out on the Pacific Division is putting themselves in a precarious first round situation vs. the LA Kings, and right now it looks like the Sharks.
4. Colorado Avalanche (50-21-7, last week: 7) – The Avs have taken points in eight of their last 10, but will be hard-pressed to win with a hobbled, or absent, Matt Duchene.
3. Anaheim Ducks (51-20-8, last week: 3) – The Ducks are still atop the standings, but losses to teams like the Oilers and Predators are danger signs just ahead of the playoffs.
2. St. Louis Blues (52-19-7, last week: 2) – The Blues are the class of the West. There’s no doubt about it.
1. Boston Bruins (53-18-7, last week: 1) – The Bruins are simply the best team in the NHL, and the favorites to win their second Stanley Cup in the last four years. It doesn’t mean they will, but they’re in a great position.