1. Washington Capitals (52-15-5, last week No. 1) – With Tuesday’s 4-2 win in Ottawa, Washington clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with 10 games left in the regular season. The Presidents’ Trophy is a lock as well so truthfully, there really isn’t that much else for the Capitals to do in these last three weeks before the playoffs begin other than to get their minds right. Their amazing goal-differential (plus-61) is nearly twice as high as any other team (LA’s is plus-32)
2. St. Louis Blues (43-22-9, last week No. 4) – Goaltender Brian Elliott (19-7-6, 2.01 goals against average and .933 save percentage) missed a month with a lower-body injury but you wouldn’t know that by the way that he’s returned: recording shutouts in back-to-back games against Vancouver and San Jose. St. Louis has the second-most points in the Western Conference and they are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. At two points behind the Stars and four points ahead of the Blackhawks in the Central Division, the Blues are in a favorable spot.
3. Dallas Stars (44-21-9, last week No. 11) – I know this is hypocritical since I’ve bashed the Stars for weeks now but they are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. Dallas’ 4-1 win at Chicago on Tuesday clinched a playoff spot and also closed the regular season series at 4-1 in their favor. I still wouldn’t bet your kids’ college fund(s) on this team in the postseason but they have already proved to be more resilient than I thought with Tyler Seguin (33 goals, 40 assists) out with a gruesome Achilles injury (don’t Google it if you are squeamish).
4. Los Angeles Kings (44-24-5, last week No. 2) – LA is on top in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of Anaheim, but the Kings have dropped their last two games after falling 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday. There is no need to worry though, they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and they still possess the best goal-differential in the West (plus-32). Los Angeles has allowed the fewest goals in the NHL and a trip to lowly Winnipeg on Thursday should be just what they need to get untracked.
5. Anaheim Ducks (40-23-9, last week No. 3) – For the first time in months, the Ducks aren’t on fire (5-4-1 in their last 10 games). Their 4-3 loss in Montreal on Tuesday was surprising but it’s hard to picture them losing at Toronto on Thursday. They have a game in hand on the Kings so Anaheim still has a reasonable shot at the Pacific Division title.
6. Chicago Blackhawks (42-25-7, last week No. 5) – After getting punked by the Stars on Tuesday, the Blackhawks are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. Goaltender Corey Crawford (35-18-4, 2.32 goals against average, .926 save percentage & 7 shutouts) has been out for over a week with an upper-body injury and it’s clear that Scott Darling’s (7-7-3, 2.59 goals against average, .913 save percentage and 1 shutout) magic from last season ran out awhile ago. Chicago is at Calgary on Saturday and at Vancouver on Sunday, two layups that should help them regain some confidence.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning (42-26-5, last week No. 9) – Tampa Bay is tied with Florida for first-place in the Atlantic Division but the Lightning have won their last two games and the Panthers have lost their last two. Tampa Bay also has a whopping six more regulation plus overtime wins (39) than Florida. The Lightning made a statement (and hurt Detroit’s playoff chances) with a dominant 6-2 triumph on Tuesday.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-24-8, last week No. 14) – I have no idea how they are doing it but the Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL with six straight wins. Pittsburgh is 8-2-0 in its last 10 games after Sunday’s 6-2 destruction of Washington. It feels like this could go South at any time but for now, the Penguins have amazingly pulled within two points of the Rangers (with a game in hand) for second-place in the Metropolitan Division.
9. New York Rangers (41-24-8, last week No. 10) – While Pittsburgh has made their move, New York has simply been treading water (4-4-2 in last 10 games). Monday’s 4-2 win vs. Florida was a step in the right direction and the Rangers have another big tilt on Wednesday as they host their Original Six rival the Bruins. There is no excuse for them not to finish second in the Metropolitan Division, where they have resided virtually all season.
10. San Jose Sharks (41-26-6, last week No. 12) – Tuesday’s shutout loss to St. Louis was obviously frustrating but San Jose has played solid hockey lately (6-4-0 in their last 10 games). One of the NHL’s best road teams (25-10-3), the Sharks also have the third-best goal-differential in the Western Conference (plus-28). The cupcake Oilers pay them a visit on Thursday.
11. Nashville Predators (37-23-13, last week No. 13) – Nashville is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games and they are coming off their best win of the season (5-2 vs. LA on Monday). Seven points clear of ninth-place Colorado, the Predators are most likely going to make the playoffs but the bad news is that they’re unlikely to crack the Top-3 in the Central Division. With a much better offense (204 goals scored) this season, perhaps they’ll have a longer stay in the playoffs.
12. Florida Panthers (40-24-9, last week No. 7) – The snow birds have started to return to the Northeast and conversely, the Panthers have continued to fade down the stretch (4-5-1 in their last 10 games). Florida has a key two-game mini road trip as they go to Boston on Thursday and Tampa Bay on Saturday. Those two games will go a long way towards deciding the Atlantic Division crown.
13. Boston Bruins (39-26-8, last week No. 8) – Last week the Bruins headed to California for three games and you’ll never guess what happened next! Ok you probably knew that Boston would lose all three games in San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. Now it is up to the B’s to pick up the pieces as they try to get back in the playoffs after missing out on all the fun there last season.
14. New York Islanders (38-24-9, last week No. 6) – The Islanders are another Eastern Conference club that is falling apart at just the wrong time. Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Flyers left New York only two points ahead of Philadelphia for the first Wild Card spot. The Red Wings are also two points behind the Isles but New York (who has lost 3 games in a row) has two games in hand on them.
15. Philadelphia Flyers (35-24-13, last week No. 15) – Blowing a 2-0 lead in the final 1:04 in regulation then falling 3-2 to Columbus in a shootout on Tuesday was bitter for Philadelphia but they still managed to slide into the second Wild Card spot. The Flyers are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games despite that painful hiccup. They are at Colorado on Thursday and at Arizona on Saturday before returning home to face Winnipeg on Monday.
16. Minnesota Wild (35-28-11, last week No. 17) – I’m not saying that it’s thrilling but at least the race for the second Wild Card in the Western Conference has started to heat up (finally!). The Wild and Avalanche have both won their last three games as Minnesota is ahead of Colorado by one point after Tuesday’s win over LA. Minnesota’s goal-differential is plus-9 while Colorado’s is minus-6.
17. Detroit Red Wings (36-26-11, last week No. 17) – As usual, it was a rough week for Detroit sports fans as Michigan State men’s basketball suffered one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history and the Red Wings have fallen out of the Top-8 in the East. Unlike the Spartans, Detroit still has a chance to rectify this sooner rather than later although being 4-6-0 in their last 10 games shows that they are trending in the wrong direction. The Red Wings’ goal-differential is minus-10 and they are 2-5 in shootouts this season, is that bad?
18. Colorado Avalanche (38-31-4, last week No. 18) – After winning 3-2 at Edmonton on Sunday, the Avalanche had enjoyed a short stay in eighth-place in the West. Colorado is 6-4-0 in their last 10 games and they have two more regulation and overtime wins (34) than Minnesota. The Avs host the Flyers on Thursday in a huge contest for both teams.
19. New Jersey Devils (35-31-7, last week No. 21) – Now we get to the portion of the power rankings populated by the others: teams that aren’t necessarily eliminated yet from playoff contention but that moment is right around the corner for all of them. The Devils are six points behind the Flyers and Red Wings but with only nine games left, that’s an almost insurmountable deficit to make up in such a short time period. New Jersey’s goal-differential is minus-23 (4th worst in the East) so it is kind of amazing that they are over .500.
20. Carolina Hurricanes (31-28-14, last week No. 19) – Not that anyone was paying attention in the first-place but with North Carolina men’s basketball making another possible run to the Final Four, the Hurricanes will hardly be mentioned on their local newscasts these days. Carolina is 3-3-4 in its last 10 games and they are seven points behind Philadelphia and Detroit. They’ll need to address their lack of goal-scoring (4th fewest in the East) this summer in the draft, free agency and through trades.
21. Ottawa Senators (34-32-8, last week No. 20) – Senators owner Eugene Melnyk (great name!) warned on Tuesday that “no one is safe,” so his team promptly went out and lost 4-2 to the Capitals later that evening. It has been that kind of disappointing campaign for Ottawa (sorry). They can point to their horrible road record (14-19-3) as a main reason why they will be packing up their things in a few weeks for a long off-season.
22. Montreal Canadiens (34-34-6, last week No. 22) – Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Anaheim had to be a painful reminder for Canadiens fans of what could have been this season. It is remarkable that a team we thought had so much talent will finish right around the .500 mark. They visit Detroit on Thursday with a chance to put a further dent in the Red Wings’ playoff hopes.
23. Arizona Coyotes (32-34-7, last week No. 23) – The lack of depth in the West outside of the Top-8 is displayed by the fact that Arizona is in 10th place. The Coyotes are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games after Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Oilers. Arizona only has one fewer regulation plus overtime wins (31) than Minnesota which is bizarre.
24. Buffalo Sabres (30-34-10, last week No. 25) – Buffalo is 5-3-2 in its last 10 games after Tuesday’s 3-2 win at Carolina. The Sabres are .500 on the road (16-16-4) which isn’t bad for such a young group. They are 2-6 in shootouts this season, tied for the 2nd worst record in the NHL.
25. Calgary Flames (31-36-6, last week No. 28) – The Flames picked a silly time to play some of their best hockey of the season (5-3-2) before they got smacked by the Maple Leafs in a 5-2 loss on Monday. Another underachieving Canadian team this season? Take a number and get in line.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (30-35-8, last week No. 26) – If the Flyers miss out on the playoffs by a point (something which could very well happen), they will look back on Tuesday’s shootout loss to the Blue Jackets over and over again. For Columbus, it was the first time in franchise history that they had won a game when trailing by two goals in the last two minutes of regulation. This is another team that has been nearly hopeless on the road (13-20-2).
27. Winnipeg Jets (30-37-6, last week No. 27) – The bottom of the West is so awful that Winnipeg’s minus-30 goal-differential is topped by both Vancouver and Edmonton’s minus-40. Coming off consecutive losses, I doubt that the Kings will overlook the Jets on Thursday which is bad news for host Winnipeg. The Jets are in 13th place in the West, only one point ahead of the Oilers.
28. Toronto Maple Leafs (26-35-11, last week No. 30) – You aren’t seeing things: the Maple Leafs do have the fewest points in the league but I’m giving them a sliver of respect since they have won their last two games. Furthermore, Toronto is 5-4-1 in its last 10. They host the Ducks on Thursday, another tilt that could get out of hand fast.
29. Vancouver Canucks (27-33-12, last week No. 24) – Losers (Donald Trump voice) of their last five games in a row, the Canucks have given up like you read about. Vancouver has scored the second-fewest amount of goals (167) in the NHL. Will the entire team even bother to make the trip to Nashville on Thursday?
30. Edmonton Oilers (29-40-7, last week No. 29) – If the Oilers didn’t play another game this season, would anyone notice? The California teams have to be thrilled to see Edmonton coming to town this week, that’s almost a guaranteed win since the Oilers are an NHL-worst 11-22-5 on the road. Like clockwork, Edmonton has already locked up another sub-.500 season.
Follow Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate