Blackhawks remain atop power rankings, but real drama lies on playoff periphery as year winds down.
By AJ PEREZ FS Arizona
The Chicago Blackhawks have clinched the West. The
Pittsburgh Penguins have secured the East. The real drama is lower in the standings, with one storyline featuring the
Detroit Red Wings, who have a 21-season playoff streak in jeopardy. But overall, the playoff picture looks mostly set in this lockout-shortened season.
1. Blackhawks 34-5 -5 --
Chicago has yet to lose in regulation this month, although their seven-game winning streak was snapped with an OT loss to Phoenix on Saturday. Credit a hot Mike Smith in the
Coyotes’ net along with Phoenix’s need of a win to stay viable.
2. Penguins 34-10 -0 --
Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) has been rumored to return later this week for the Pens’ final two regular season games. Credit depth --- some secured before the NHL trade deadline --- for the team staying atop the East since Crosby was sidelined March 30.
Anaheim halted a four-game skid with a 3-1 victory over Edmonton on Sunday. This certainly isn’t how Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau wanted to enter the playoffs, but at least Anaheim appears to be a lock for the Pacific. The only time the Ducks won the Pacific (2007), they also went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Carey Price may want to find the receipt for his new pads (or maybe CCM needs to refit the Habs’ star goalie). He allowed three goals on four shots against the Leafs on Saturday and gave up six goals on 29 shots in Monday’s loss to the Flyers.
5. Bruins 27-12 -5 --
The Bruins may have ended their own four-game losing streak with a win over the Panthers on Sunday. Of course, that was hardly the chief concern in Boston after the marathon bombings April 15 and the ensuing manhunt. Great gesture by the Bruins’ season-ticket holders to give the game-worn jerseys from the annual “Shirt Off Our Backs” promotion to some of the region’s first responders.
There’s a week left in the regular season and the Kings have clinched a playoff spot. It went down the wire a little more a season ago and
Los Angeles managed to win the franchise’s first Cup anyway. So, are they ahead of schedule?
7. Sharks 24-14 -7 +1
Sunday’s setback to the Columbus Blue Jackets put a dent in San Jose’s aim to grasp the fourth seed in the West (and home ice in the first round). Overall, the Sharks may not be churning like their record-setting start, but likely Vezina Trophy candidate
Antti Niemi hasn’t played this solid since he helped lead the Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup title.
The Canucks clinched a playoff spot, and yes, goalie
Cory Schneider was in net for it against Detroit on Saturday. Even with high-priced perennial starter
Roberto Luongo on the bench, there doesn’t appear to be any sort of goalie controversy in Vancouver.
Alex Ovechkin is scoring, and not just against the league’s worst teams. His hat trick in a victory over the Canadiens on Saturday gave him 30 goals on the season, three more than Lightning forward
Steven Stamkos in the hunt for the Rocket Richard Trophy. He’s also making a good case for the Hart (league MVP) with the Caps are 9-0-1 over their last 10 games.
10. Maple Leafs 25-15 -5 -1
Toronto qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2004 on Saturday. The Leafs’ next dismal streak -- the fact they haven’t won the Cup since 1967 -- won’t be as easily slayed.
11. Senators 23-15 -6 --
The Sens have won four of their last five games and could clinch a playoff spot as soon as Monday night. (Ottawa would need to beat Pittsburgh and Buffalo has to defeat the Jets.) Ottawa has fared better than expected minus top defenseman Erik Karlsson (torn Achilles) and
Jason Spezza (back) much of the season.
12. Blues 26-17 -2 +1
Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Avs marked the first time the Blues scored more than two goals since April 5. That’s an eight-game stretch where the team’s goaltending kept them in contention. Offense has been hard to come by for the Blues, especially after
T.J. Oshie had ankle surgery and likely remains out for a couple more weeks.
13. Blue Jackets 22-17 -7 +1
The Jackets, after a crucial victory over the Sharks on Sunday, hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. There’s still a shot that the Red Wings, Coyotes or Stars could snag that No. 8 seed. That’d be a heartbreaker for a team that rallied like no other this season.
14. Wild 24-18 -3 -4
Over their last seven games, the Wild are 2-4-1. A playoff lock before this stretch, the Wild reportedly held a team meeting and reassigned three players. As my colleague Michael Russo from the Minneapolis Star Tribune put it: Desperate move for a desperate team.
15. Islanders 24-16 -5 +1
The Islse are the hottest team in the East outside the Caps at the moment. The Islanders have not made the playoffs in six seasons and, just a few weeks ago, that trend looked like it would continue.
16. Rangers 24-17 -4 +1
Sure, there are no “easy” games, but the Rangers’ final three dates come pretty close. The Blue Shirts face the Panthers (Tuesday), Hurricanes (Thursday) and Devils (Saturday). All those teams have been eliminated from the playoffs.
17. Red Wings 20-16 -8 -2
The Wings could still sneak into the playoffs and extend a postseason streak that began during the 1990-91 season. It’s no coincidence that defenseman and former captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired before the season, was around for the last 20 years of that 21-season streak.
18. Coyotes 19-17 -8 +4
There are four games left, two at home. Will those be the Coyotes' final dates in Glendale? They are still mathematically alive in the playoff hunt, and the same holds true for the team’s chances of remaining in the desert in the long term.
19. Stars 22-19 -4 --
There is still a path to the playoffs for the Stars. A tough one, for sure, and Dallas would likely need to win their final three games --- and even then there are no guarantees. Two of the Stars’ final three games Thursday (Blue Jackets) and Saturday (Red Wings) are against teams ahead of them for the eighth seed.
20. Jets 23-19 -3 -2
Winnipeg is the only team in the East not in Top 8 that remains alive in the playoff chase. Barely. Jets were in first place in the Southeast as recently as April 5, but that five-game skid in late March through early April was too much to overcome.
21. Devils 17-18 -10 --
That listless effort in 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Sunday eliminated the Devils. That means for the first time since 2007 when the Oilers and Hurricanes missed the playoffs, a team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final failed to make it into the postseason the following year.
22. Sabres 19-20 -6 -2
Three more games before the Sabres’ offseason begins. The most pressing issue (outside of hiring a new coach unless Ron Rolston’s “interim” tag is removed) is what to do with goalie
Ryan Miller. He has one season left on his contract and could be a trade target if this team enters a long rebuilding phase.
23. Flyers 20-22 -3 --
The Flyers are out of the playoff for the first time since 2007 and only the second time over the last 18 years. The changes this offseason could be drastic, although it seems like the Flyers will stay the course. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who was the Flyers’ top player for the first several weeks of the season, cooled off considerably in March and April. Could he be a buyout target because of that?
24. Oilers 17-20 -7 --
It’s been a week since the Oilers fired GM Steve Tambellini. The Oilers are 1-2 since the change and a loss to the Ducks on Sunday officially ended Edmonton’s playoff hopes.
25. Flames 19-22 -4 +4
Calgary has fallen into the role of spoiler quite well over the last three games with victories over the Red Wings, Ducks and Wild.
26. Predators 15-21 -9 -1
Nashville missed the playoffs for only the second time over the last nine seasons. The Preds, the second-lowest scoring team in the league, have some upside. They are estimated (per CapGeek.com) to have the sixth-lowest payroll in the league next year, meaning -- if ownership decides to pony up -- a scorer or two may not be far off.
27. Hurricanes 18-24 -3 --
Chief among the ‘Canes priorities this offseason is figuring out what went wrong on special teams. This roster is too deep to have 25th power play and 27th penalty kill.
28. Lightning 17-24 -4 -2
The Lightning are fifth in the league when leading after the first period. The problem is that rarely occurs and Tampa Bay has won only 14.8 percent of their games (third-worst in the league) when the opposition scores the first goal.
29. Avalanche 15-23 -7 -1
The Avs interrupted their swoon with a 5-3 victory over the Blues on Sunday. Colorado players had looked like they were counting down the days to golf --- or a trip to Las Vegas as backup goalie J.S. Giguere put it a couple week back.
30. Panthers 13-26 -6 --
There haven’t been many glimpses of the Panthers team that made the playoffs a season ago, especially during their current six-game skid.