By Joe Haggerty
Who is going to come out of the playoff scrum in either conference?
The Rangers, Sabres, Hurricanes, Thrashers, Maple Leafs and Devils are battling it out for two spots at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, and its been fascinating to watch each team take turns as the worthy team with a winning streak.
Over the long haul, give credit to the Devils, Maple Leafs and Sabres for pulling themselves up from the dregs of the East to be mentioned into the conversation, and to the Sabres for beating very good teams like the Flyers and Bruins on their way back into the Top Eight.
But watch out for the Devils, who have taken wins in 14 out of 16 games and now find themselves just eight points out of place. Can they make it?
Maybe not, but nobody would want to play them in the playoffs? Just like there isnt a team out there looking forward to playing a young, energized bunch of Sabres backstopped by Ryan Miller once the postseason starts.
Theres just as big a logjam of teams in the West, but one gets the sense its going to take quite a bit for Nashville, Minnesota or Anaheim to storm into the top eight teams given their current roster situations.
Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:
1. Vancouver Canucks (46-16-9, last week: 1) The Canucks have won five in a row, and the Sedin Twins are first and third in the NHL in scoring coming out of last weekend. Naming Henrik captain this season looks like its worked out pretty well.
2. Washington Capitals (40-20-10, last week: 7) The Caps are the hottest team in hockey with wins in eight straight games, and Alex Ovechkin is hitting his personal turbo button at just the right time. Theyre nipping at the Flyers heels and looking dangerous in the playoffs.
3. Philadelphia Flyers (42-19-7, last week: 3) The Flyers have won just three times in their last nine games, and appear to be a team losing steam heading into the postseason. Blowing a three-goal lead to the Thrashers is pretty damned ugly.
4. Detroit Red Wings (41-20-8, last week: 4) Henrik Zetterberg has a career-high 51 assists and has been driving the engine all year while injuries cropped up all around him. The Wings have consistently been one of the NHLs best all season, and are still my pick in the West.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-22-8, last week: 8) The Penguins are still hovering within striking distance, and Sidney Crosby skated for the first time since January. If Crosby can somehow return from a concussion, the Pens automatically move back to the head of the class.
6. San Jose Sharks (39-23-8, last week: 5) Joe Thornton tosses out some wild speculation about the Bruins receiving favorable calls while completely mixing up his facts. Good old Jumbo Joe still doesnt have a clue.
7. Boston Bruins (38-21-9, last week: 2) The Bruins look great, and then blow two-goal leads to the Sabres and Isles with Tim Thomas in net. Looks like the Bs are headed back down the roller-coaster hill.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (39-22-9, last week: 9) Justtwo wins in their last eightsgames for the Bolts, and theyre being passed by the red-hot Capitals. They look ready to be victimized in the playoffs.
9. Los Angeles Kings (39-25-5, last week: 14) Two goals and three assists for Dustin Penner in his first six games with the Kings make him a fantastic pickup. Hes the guy that Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar have been yearning for.
10. Montreal Canadiens (38-24-7, last week: 11) The Habs seem to have rallied around the Max Pacioretty incident, and that us against the world mentality can help lift a hockey team. But please, people of Montreal, quit calling the police about hockey matters. Its embarrassing.
11. Chicago Blackhawks (38-24-8, last week: 6) The boom-or-bust Blackhawks had lost three in a row heading into San Joseafter ripping off eight straight victories to push themselves back into the playoff discussion. Big win over the Sharks.
12. Phoenix Coyotes (36-23-11, last week: 13) Think the Anaheim Ducks regret waiving Ilya Bryzgalov now that hes on the verge of becoming the all-time shutout leader on the Coyotes with 21 of them? Hes helping carry the desert dogs to the playoffs.
13. Buffalo Sabres (34-27-8, last week: 18) The Sabres managed to put themselves back into the playoff discussion amidst a seven-game road trip. Thats not an easy thing to do, and thats why theyre a very dark horse in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
14. Dallas Stars (37-24-8, last week: 12) The Stars have won six of their last eight games and got Brad Richards back into the mix. All of that Richards trade stuff was so silly.
15. New Jersey Devils (32-32-4, last week: 21) Nobody ever thought theyd make it back to .500 this season. Never mind the playoffs. You win 14 out of 16 games and you move right up the ranks.
16. Nashville Predators (35-24-10, last week: 15) The Preds are on the upswing and goalie Pekka Rinne has won 25 games for three consecutive seasons. Hes really coming on in the goaltending award discussions.
17. Anaheim Ducks (37-27-5, last week: 17) Im not going to count Ray Emerys comeback between the pipes as a pro when it comes to Anaheims list of playoff pros and cons. The Jonas Hiller saga has hurt this team badly.
18. Calgary Flames (36-26-9, last week: 10) The Flames lost to the Canucks and Coyotes in back-to-back games for the first time in two months, and it could be costly to a team fighting for its playoff life.
19. New York Rangers (36-30-4, last week: 19) Sean Avery was scratched because hes been inconsistent in his role as an agitator. Things should get interesting in the Big Apple.
20. Minnesota Wild (35-28-7, last week: 16) The Wild are whimpering their way through a playoff stretch with shutout losses to Nashville and Dallas, and then a sound thrashing at the hands of the Canucks. This may be it for Minnesota.
21. Toronto Maple Leafs (30-30-10, last week: 22) The Leafs are within striking distance of a playoff spot in March. Who knew that Phil Kessel and Co. had this kind of determination in them? The loss to Tampa did hurt, though.
22. Carolina Hurricanes (31-28-10, last week: 20) The Hurricanes have lost four in a row and have a tilt with the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night thats got all kinds of implications. Its almost like Stanley Cup Thunder Dome. Two teams enter and one team leaves.
23. Atlanta Thrashers (29-28-12, last week: 24) The Thrashers overcame a three-goal deficit to beat the Flyers last weekend, and still have a heartbeat left in the final few weeks.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets (32-27-9, last week: 23) The Blue Jackets are playing out the string, but give them a nod for ending an eight-game losing streak.
25. St. Louis Blues (31-29-9, last week: 25) The Blues have a three-game winning streak, but does any of this really matter when their seasonal song has already faded to black?
26. Florida Panthers (28-32-9, last week: 28) Guess the Panthers finally figured out that South Beach wasnt a good fit for Dennis Wideman. Good call.
27. New York Islanders (27-32-11, last week: 26) The Islanders look good late in the year, and are playing the spoiler to many of their Eastern Conference brethren. Matt Moulson is going to be a good player for a good long time with the way he plays around the net.
28. Colorado Avalanche (26-34-8, last week: 27) One win in their last 19 games. Ooof.
29. Ottawa Senators (25-35-9, last week: 29) At least the Sens have Craig Anderson to pin their hopes on, though he was yanked against the Sabres last weekend.
30. Edmonton Oilers (23-38-9, last week: 30) No Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall or Sam Gagner to end the season in Edmonton means theres not much going on up there. Tough end to the season.