By Joe Haggerty
The final three weeks of the NHL season have arrived, and its time for teams to start making statements about their entrance into the playoffs.
Some, like the Bruins, aren't exactly finishing strong. The B's have lost six of seven and succumbed to the rigors of an NHL schedule that saw them play 12 of their last 16 games on the road. They're left to hope that a little home cooking is the salve for all that ails them.
Meanwhile, teams like the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks are playing their best hockey of the season and pushing for higher playoff seeding, though injuries to Alex Ovechkin and Logan Couture have hurt their postseason arguments, depending on their severity.
Then there are the Penguins, who have no Sidney Crosby, no Evgeni Malkin and no have no Matt Cooke after his suspension for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. They play with heart and they play with grit, but Pittsburgh is looking more and more like a first-round victim for some lucky team.
As time goes the playoff picture is clearing up, which is either a good or bad thing for a handful of teams depending on their fortunes as the Stanley Cup tourney looms on the horizon.
Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:
1. Vancouver Canucks (47-17-9, last week: 1) Doesnt look like Vancouver will be giving this position up, but the tragic Manny Malhotra injury is going to hurt this team in the playoffs.
2. Philadelphia Flyers (44-19-8, last week: 3) A big week with the Caps and Penguins both on tap will give the Flyers a chance to really solidify themselves as top dog in the East.
3. Detroit Red Wings (43-21-9, last week: 4) The Wings are coasting into second place in the East, but seem to be having a hard time with the Nashville Predators. Hope that doesnt mean Pekka Rinne nightmares in the playoffs for Motown. Then itll time to turn to the Tigers.
4. Washington Capitals (42-21-10, last week: 2) The Caps went on a big run, and now Alexander Ovechkin is being rested with a minor ailment until the playoffs. Okay, then.
5. San Jose Sharks (42-23-8, last week: 6) Antti Niemi has started 28 straight games and the Sharks have notched a power-play goal in seven straight games. San Jose is playing its best hockey of the season.
6. Phoenix Coyotes (39-24-11, last week: 12) The Coyotes are pushing the Sharks in the division, and playing well down the stretch. The people of Winnipeg are salivating.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (42-23-8, last week: 5) The Penguins have battled to remain in the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams, but the Matt Cooke slap might just be the final blow for a team on the edge.
8. Boston Bruins (38-22-9, last week: 7) The Bs have lost six out of seven games, and need to pull things together in every facet of the game. There was literally nothing good about their recent stretch, and Tim Thomas has been very human since the All-Star break.
9. Montreal Canadiens (40-26-7, last week: 10) The Habs are gaining steam and seem to have rallied around the Max Pacioretty incident. Theres no way to underplay how big Thursday nights game in Boston is for both teams.
10. Chicago Blackhawks (39-25-8, last week: 11) The Blackhawks are no longer fighting for their playoff lives, but dont have that Stanley Cup feel to them.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (39-22-11, last week: 8) Two wins in their last 10 games are a sign of a young team starting to lose some of their playoff nerve. The Bolts are pretty soft when it comes to playoff hockey.
12. Los Angeles Kings (41-26-6, last week: 9) The Kings have worn their purple-and-gold jerseys for the fourth and final time this season. For that I am about to go in mourning, but the team is still holding strong in the middle of the playoff pack.
13. Anaheim Ducks (40-27-5, last week: 17) Dan Ellis and Ray Emery are a feel-good story for the Ducks, but can they keep it going with Emerys bionic hip? This guy has some doubts.
14. Nashville Predators (38-25-10, last week: 16) The Predators have won five out of six games and shown a lot of heart in the process. Barry Trotz has Nashville ready to play its unlikely playoff song yet again this season.
15. New York Rangers (39-30-4, last week: 19) Four wins in a row for a team that all of the sudden looks like its smelling the playoffs. The way the Rags came back and responded to Cookes hatchet-man act last weekend was inspired.
16. Dallas Stars (38-25-9, last week: 14) The Stars go head-to-head with the Ducks and Predators this week in great late-season games against teams that theyre battling against for playoff position. The Stars have been wildly unpredictable in the second half.
17. Buffalo Sabres (35-28-9, last week: 13) The Sabres gave away a point to the red-hot Preds last weekend, but theyre still making a strong playoff push in the East. The Sabres are in good position and theres plenty of motivation with new ownership.
18. Calgary Flames (37-27-11, last week: 18) Withsevengames left and sitting on the outside of the playoffs, the Flames have to get extremely hot. No, that wasnt a play on words.
19. Carolina Hurricanes (33-29-10, last week: 22) The Hurricanes have hit a bit of a wall and Eric Staal hasnt scored a goal in six straight games. Looks like the young Canes arent elevating their game.
20. New Jersey Devils (34-34-4, last week: 15) The Devils streak has cooled ever so slightly, and big games with the Bruins, Penguins and Sabres loom this week. Make or break time for a team that cant stumble at all.
21. Toronto Maple Leafs (32-31-10, last week: 21) Toronto matched i poitsnt total from a season ago (74) after beating the Bruins last weekend, and sit only four points behind the Sabres for a playoff spot. The Leafs would be a great story if they can sneak through the playoff back door.
22. Atlanta Thrashers (30-30-12, last week: 23) The Thrash got crunched by the Sabres and appear to be fading from playoff view after a decent run. Looks like Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart arent going to be difference-makers.
23. Minnesota Wild (35-30-8, last week: 20) The Wild are 0-5-1 in their last six games, and coach Todd Richards said his team wasnt professional in an 8-1 shellacking at the hands of the Canadiens. Ouch.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets (33-29-10, last week: 24) The Blue Jackets have lost five in a row at home and Rick Nashs line was a combined minus-5 in a shutout loss to the Devils last weekend. The season cant end fast enough for the B.J.s.
25. St. Louis Blues (32-31-9, last week: 25) The Blues have already started planning for next seasons payroll. Thats all that needs to be known there.
26. Florida Panthers (29-33-10, last week: 26) Ten straight years with no playoffs. That is Panthers hockey.
27. New York Islanders (28-33-12, last week: 27) Good rebound for Rick DiPietro getting a shootout win last weekend in his first start after Brent Johnson basically broke his face.
28. Ottawa Senators (27-36-9, last week: 29) The Senators hope theyve solved their goaltending problem by signing Craig Anderson to a four-year contract. Theyre really hoping.
29. Colorado Avalanche (27-36-8, last week: 28) The Avs snapped a 10-game losing streak and finally gave goalie Brian Elliott a victory. What a horrible trade in the short term for Colorado.
30. Edmonton Oilers (23-39-10, last week: 30) Looks like the Oilers will be getting themselves another young superstar in the draft. Theyd better hope its a defenseman this time around.