Haggerty: NHL power rankings

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Haggerty: NHL power rankings

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

The clock is striking midnight for a lot of the Cinderella teams. While the Maple Leafs, Flames and Blackhawks are all clinging strongly to their playoff hopes, teams like the Thrashers and Devils have succumbed to the harsh reality of mediocrity in the NHL.

The Devils built themselves too big a hole to climb out of, and the Thrashers simply didnt have enough firepower, experience and defense depth to push the team over the top into the playoffs.

The Leafs are the most interesting study given how pathetic they were halfway through the year and how closely theyre nipping at the heels of teams like the Rangers and Sabres and Brian Burke has already expressed the requisite pride for his scrappy hockey club. Given the desperation theyve been playing with, the Sabres, Leafs or Hurricanes should all be looked at as most dangerous should they somehow sneak into the playoff tournament. Should be interesting to watch.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (52-18-9, last week: 1): The Canucks are ready to buck the odds and attempt to become only the eighth team in the last 29 years to win both the Presidents Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season.

2. Washington Capitals (46-22-11, last week: 3) Thirty goals and 81 points in an off season for Alex Ovechkin. Not too shabby for Ovie or for the Capitals.

3. Detroit Red Wings (46-23-10, last week: 4) The Wings have qualified for the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons the longest running current streak in any of the four major sports. That is organizational excellence at its finest.

4. Philadelphia Flyers (46-22-11, last week: 2) The Flyers are 6-7-5 since Feb. 24 and have gone into an extended malaise as the top dogs in the East. Its difficult to turn the switch back on for anyone, and that may hurt the Flyers badly once the postseason hits.

5. San Jose Sharks (46-23-9, last week: 6) Joe Thornton is three points away from 1,000 in his NHL career, which will mean exactly nothing once the playoffs start for the Sharks.

6. Boston Bruins (44-23-11, last week: 7) The Bruins are as ready for the playoffs as theyre ever going to be. Nathan Horton has shown a good combination of offense and nastiness for the last month.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (46-25-8, last week: 5) No Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin and 336 man games lost to injury, but the Penguins keep on trucking. Its impressive, but itd be shocking if theres much left in the tank come playoffs.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (44-24-11, last week: 11) The Bolts are putting together a winning streak to end the season, and cap off their first playoff campaign since 2007.

9. Los Angeles Kings (45-27-6, last week: 8) Its going to be awfully difficult to replace Anze Kopitar, who put up 73 points in 75 games before he broke his ankle.

10. Phoenix Coyotes (42-25-12, last week: 10) The Desert Dogs are getting a brief late-season respite, and will end their regular season with a big home-and-home series against the Sharks. Phoenix continues to be a team flying under everyones radar.

11. Nashville Predators (42-26-11, last week: 9) Barry Trotz is all-mighty and all-powerful. That is all.

12. Chicago Blackhawks (42-28-8, last week: 14) The Blackhawks look like theyre in for the postseason, but theyve never truly pushed past the Stanley Cup hangover. Difficult to see a long run from the Hawks this spring.

13. Anaheim Ducks (44-30-5, last week: 13) Corey Perry is on fire with 15 goals in the month of March, and is looking to be the first Anaheim player to lead the league in goals since Teemu Selanne in 1998-99. The Ray Emery comeback has really save the team.

14. Buffalo Sabres (40-29-10, last week: 15) The Sabres lost Ryan Miller to injury at the worst possible time, but not even that has slowed their momentum as they finish in incredibly strong fashion.

15. Montreal Canadiens (42-30-7, last week: 18) Breaks my heart to see the Montreal fans all over Scott Gomez. Really, it does.

16. New York Rangers (42-32-5, last week: 12) The Rangers are hanging around and came away with a huge win over the Flyers. They missed the playoffs by a shootout loss last season, and are hoping to avoid that fate this time around.

17. Dallas Stars (39-28-11, last week: 16) The Stars are 0-3-3 in their last six games and all of their offensive players have slumped at the exact same time. Looks like the bubble is bursting.

18. Calgary Flames (40-29-11, last week: 17) Jarome Iginla became the 77th player in NHL history to crack 1,000 career points while willing his team to a vital victory. Calgary may miss the playoffs, but it wont be Iginlas fault.

19. Carolina Hurricanes (38-30-11, last week: 20) It might not be the 'Canes' year after they couldnt pull out a pivotal game at home against the Sabres team just ahead of them. Carolina is a little green for the playoffs.

20. Toronto Maple Leafs (37-32-10, last week: 19) Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel could all be 30-goal scorers for the Leafs this season. They have the building blocks in place for the future even if they fall short this year.

21. Atlanta Thrashers (33-33-12, last week: 21) Zach Bogosian showed exactly why the Thrashers are so down on him with a pair of unforgivable turnovers in the game against the Bruins that led to their playoff elimination.

22. New Jersey Devils (36-37-5, last week: 23) Too little and too late for the Devils to make the playoffs, but at least they rebounded after a brutal first half. One positive: it appears Zach Parise is again healthy.

23. St. Louis Blues (36-33-10, last week: 22) The only question worth asking in St. Louis: what the heck got into T.J. Oshie?

24. Minnesota Wild (37-34-8, last week: 24) Good to see the Wild are going to get plenty of time to make preparations for this summers NHL draft in the Twin Cities.

25. Columbus Blue Jackets (34-32-13, last week: 25) The Mathieu Garon Era might be over with the B.J.s after letting up a pair of softies to the Blues before getting yanked this weekend.

26. Ottawa Senators (30-39-10, last week: 28) The Senators have played demonstrably better since getting kids involved, and got a coup with the singing of Stephane Da Costa.

27. New York Islanders (30-37-12, last week: 26) The End cant came soon enough to the Garth Snow Era. What an abomination hes been on Long Island.

28. Colorado Avalanche (29-41-8, last week: 29) The Avalanche havent won in regulation since Feb. 22, and now it appears Adam Foote and Paul Stastny are out for the season. Can they just forfeit?

29. Edmonton Oilers (24-43-11, last week: 30) A ragtag group of Oilers managed to take down the mighty Canucks on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend. Kind of a big deal for a team without hope this season.

30. Florida Panthers (29-38-12, last week: 27) Someday well talk about hockey in southern Florida, and laugh knowingly at the absurdity of it. Were not there yet, though.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

BOSTON -- For the third straight season, the Bruins are showing all the ugly, telltale signs of a hockey club poised to take a nosedive out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The short-attention span Bruins returned in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden, and proceeded to blow three one-goal leads in the second period before totally collapsing in the final 20 minutes of the game. Three unanswered third goals later, the Bruins were understandably downtrodden and accountable for a performance that kicked up so many bad memories from the last couple of seasons.

“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we can’t point fingers. Everyone has to step up and if every guy is going to do their job, including myself, then the rest will follow, you know?” said David Krejci. “But we hadn’t done that [against Tampa Bay] at all. The last two games against Toronto and Ottawa, I thought we worked hard. But for whatever reason [against Tampa] – maybe we thought it was going to come easy – we just shot ourselves in the foot.

“Like I said, each player has to be better, including myself, and if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be losing and we need to win games. We have a team, we all believe, we know we can play well. We know we can win hockey games. We have a great game plan, but [against Tampa] I guess we just thought it was going to come easy.”

Even worse there were clear signs of panic in Boston’s game as things unfolded in an unsightly manner on the Garden ice.

Clearly it wasn’t about talent on Thursday night, and instead it was about focus, concentration and paying attention to the fine details that can come back to haunt you late in the season. The Bruins scored three goals in the second period with David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Riley Nash each lighting the lamp, but it took 44 seconds, 24 seconds and 1 minute, 35 seconds respectively in the second period for the Bolts to things up.

That’s the kind of instant buckling and crumbling under pressure we’ve seen in the past from the Bruins late in seasons, and we’re seeing it again despite a different coach and some new, hard-nosed players like David Backes. That lack of composure combined with a pinch of panic is a potentially disastrous mix for the Black and Gold, just as it has been for the last three years.

“Those follow up shifts need to be our best shifts of the game. They’re when you can either bury a team, or when you get scored on to have a great response, and to show that you’re not going away [if you’re the team trailing]. I don’t think they were our best shifts. They were probably some of our least [effective] in the form of execution, least form of desperation and fortitude to just impose what we’re going to do on the other team.

[Tampa] certainly made good on their chances, there’s no question about that. But I think we led into them way too much and the result is the result that we don’t get points again. We’re four [losses] in a row here, but this needs to stop Saturday [against the Islanders] or the bleeding starts to get profuse after that. The guys are in this room. We know it. We’ve seen it. We need to look in the mirror.”

It goes beyond a thoroughly gross second period, however.

The Bruins last line of defense, No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, crumbled in the second and third period as things were falling apart around him. Anton Stralman beat him high to the short-side, glove side for the game-tying goal on a transition play, and Jonathan Drouin snapped one past him from the face-off circle that dipped under his glove hand for the game-winner.

It was a soft, inexcusable goal allowed in a hugely important game, and was part of five goals allowed on 28 shots for the former Vezina Trophy winner. After the game Rask seemed frazzled, his voice getting soft and trailing off when it was his turn to accept responsibility for a giant stink bomb tossed down on the Garden ice.

“You have to [pick up the team]. A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” said Tuukka Rask. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There were a couple of times I should’ve made the save, but it happens sometimes…”

The high pressure situation with things spiraling out of control even seemed to be getting to their best, most established players with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand forcing things down a goal in the third period. Bergeron and Marchand were put back together with David Pastrnak in the second and third periods with Bruce Cassidy looking for answers, and they attempted to execute a D-zone face-off play that’s worked a few times for them in the last few years.

It involves Bergeron winning the draw, and then either Marchand or Pastrnak immediately releasing for a home run pass that can turn into a breakaway opportunity if the opponent is caught napping. Tampa Bay wasn’t caught unaware when the B’s tried it in the middle of the third period, but then Bergeron and Co. kept trying to make it happen.

They ended up icing the puck multiple times trying to make the goal happen in one quick play rather than working for the tying goal, and it killed any momentum they could have possibly started building up for a third period comeback. It also showed a fundamental lack of confidence that they could scratch and claw their way back in on Thursday night, and that’s a definite cause for concern at this time of year.

“At the end of the day, it is a focus, and it’s urgency, and it’s understanding time and score. We did not have a good comprehension of that tonight, I don’t think, and of late,” said Cassidy. “We’ve let games get away, and you can look back, even this year, we’ve had some goals scored against us late throughout the course of the year. It’s been built in this year, and we’re still fighting through it, to be perfectly honest.

“It’s a mindset that we’ve just got to get harder and understand the stakes, and what’s required after you score a goal. I think winning teams get through that, and we’re fighting through it this year. Some nights, we’ve been good at it. We’ve had resiliency, I think. It’s just, lately, it’s creeping in, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud now.”

It hasn’t been just the young players at the heart of this four-game losing streak, and the Tampa loss should have been a wakeup call that the Bruins veterans need to find a way to step up their focus, their effort level and their composure at this time of year. After their fourth loss in a row, the Bruins have frittered away whatever margin for error they once had with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.
 

Bruin players talk the talk after failing to walk the walk vs. Lightning

Bruin players talk the talk after failing to walk the walk vs. Lightning

BOSTON -- All the Bruins -- the leaders and the core veteran group -- were front and center on Thursday night, taking accountability for what had just happened on the ice.

It was ugly: Boston frittered away three one-goal leads in the second period and then came totally unglued in the third period, allowing three consecutive goals in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. There were moments when focus and concentration were clearly an issue, and other moments when the Bruins lacked their usual discipline with veteran players were taking some ill-advised penalties.

With pressure mounting as the Bruins, losers of four in a row, appear to be headed towards their third consecutive late-season collapse out of the playoffs, the players were saying all the right things while vowing to move forward with eight games left.

"I think it's not good enough from top to bottom," said David Backes. "I'll be the first guy to point fingers at my chest and say I need to be better. Tonight was certainly not our best when it's that time of year [and] you need your best every night to win, no matter who you're playing against or what the circumstances may be. This one certainly hurts . . .

"But now's not the time to not be giving ourselves a chance to win and we need to be doing that every night. Tonight, we didn't and we've got eight games left and they all need to be really good-to-great ones so that we can find our way into these playoffs."

Backes finished a minus-2 with just a single shot on net and seemed a step behind Tampa Bay most of the game, so it was proper to him to call himself our for personal ineffectiveness. But as interim coach Bruce Cassidy put it, responsibility for Thursday night -- the low point of the Bruins' season -- rests on "Player 1 through Player 20". And all 20 of the Bruins will be needed to find a successful way out.