NHL Power Rankings: Bruins at top as playoffs near, Red Wings come on strong
1. Boston Bruins (53-18-8; last week-1) – With a win on Thursday in Winnipeg, coupled with a loss by St. Louis at Minnesota, the Bruins can capture their second ever Presidents’ Trophy. By going 6-1-3 in its last 10 games, Boston has created some separation between itself and St. Louis. For the B’s, it’s all about getting rest for their key players before the postseason begins next week.
2. Anaheim Ducks (51-20-8; last week-3) – The race for the top seed in the Western Conference has unexpectedly become interesting with St. Louis’ late swoon. The Ducks are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. However, Anaheim does have its hands full in its final three games: vs. San Jose, at LA and vs. Colorado.
3. St. Louis Blues (52-20-7; last week-2) – They built up plenty of cushion, but Blues fans have to be getting a little worried about their team heading into the playoffs. St. Louis has lost its last three games and has scored two or less goals in nine of their last 11. Alex Steen returned on Tuesday, but David Backes left with an injury. It’s been that kind of stretch for the Blues.
4. Colorado Avalanche (51-21-7; last week-5) – The Avalanche are the opposite of the Blues at the moment. They are playing really well heading into the games that really count. Colorado is 7-1-2 in its last 10 games and are still in play for the top seed in the West. Their last three games (Vancouver, San Jose and Anaheim) are all on the road, which sounds daunting, but let’s not forget that they are an NHL-best 25-10-3 away from the Pepsi Center.
5. San Jose Sharks (49-21-9; last week-4) – The Sharks have been treading water lately (4-4-2 in their last 10 games). They are three points behind Anaheim with three games left but they have an outside chance at winning the Pacific Division. That starts with beating the Ducks on Wednesday in Anaheim.
6. Chicago Blackhawks (45-19-15; last week-7) – The Blackhawks are starting to look like themselves again, at just the right time. Chicago has won its last three games and the better news is that they should get Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews back in the playoffs. It won’t be an easy road back to a Cup though, as at the moment they would be the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (50-24-5; last week-6) – Most people feel as though Bruins-Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals is a foregone conclusion but don’t be surprised if Pittsburgh doesn’t make it that far. The Penguins are a middling, 5-5-0 in their last 10 games. Defenseman Kris Letang is now back, 10 weeks after suffering a minor stroke.
8. Montreal Canadiens (45-27-7; last week-10) – Fun fact: the Canadiens will be the only Canadian team in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. No pressure guys! Montreal is going to be the three or four seed and there’s no reason why they can’t win a round or two.
9. Los Angeles Kings (45-28-6; last week-8) – The Kings have dropped their last two games but are still 7-3-0 in their past 10 games. They are locked into the sixth or seventh seed as they battle Minnesota to stay out of the Wild Card. As always, the Kings are built for the playoffs as they’ve allowed an NHL-low 166 goals.
10. Minnesota Wild (42-26-12; last week-13) – The Wild rallied for a thrilling 4-3 shootout win over Boston on Tuesday. Before that game had even ended, they clinched a playoff spot which in the West is a notable accomplishment. Minnesota is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games and it has won its last three. The Wild are sure to be a tougher out in the first round then they were last year.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (43-27-9; last week-9) – This team’s playoff hopes come with a 6-foot-7 inch asterisk. Big Ben Bishop hurt his wrist on Tuesday and the goaltender’s availability for the first round is cloudy at best. Injuries happen to every team, but you have to feel for the Lightning who already had to live through Steven Stamkos’ absence. Bishop being out for an extended time period could prove fatal. The good news is that they are in the East so they might be able to survive with Anders Lindback (6-12-2) in net for a bit.
12. New York Rangers (44-31-5; last week-11) – They are two points behind Tampa Bay and they only have two games left but the Rangers could take advantage of Bishop’s injury to leapfrog the Lightning to fourth place in the East. Then again, New York is 25-14-1 on the road (best record in the East) so maybe that’s not as much of a priority as you’d expect. New York’s last regular season game at Madison Square Garden is Thursday vs. Buffalo.
13. Philadelphia Flyers (41-29-9; last week-12) – The Flyers clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday with their 5-2 win at Florida. That is impressive when you consider their horrid start (1-7) that cost former head coach Peter Laviolette his job. The key now for the Flyers is to avoid Boston for as long as it can since the Bruins swept the season series (3-0) and seem to have their number.
14. Dallas Stars (39-29-11; last week-14) – You can’t overestimate the importance of Dallas’ 3-2 shootout win over Nashville on Tuesday. That kept the Stars two points ahead of Phoenix for the eighth seed. They each have three games left and it could all come down to a meeting on Sunday in Phoenix.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets (41-31-7; last week-17) – The 4-3 overtime win by the Blue Jackets against the Coyotes on Tuesday was a significant result for both clubs. Columbus has won its last two games and the Blue Jackets end the regular season with three games on the road (Dallas, Tampa Bay and Florida). Nathan Horton can’t stay healthy as he returned vs. Phoenix but then left early with a lower body injury.
16. Detroit Red Wings (38-27-14; last week-16) – Detroit only needs one more point to clinch a playoff spot for the 23rd straight season (best mark in North American pro sports). I doubt there have been many years with more adversity than this one for the Red Wings. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and 3-0 vs. Boston this season. Remember that if they meet in the first round.
17. Phoenix Coyotes (36-28-15; last week-15) – With Mike Smith out, predictably the Coyotes are falling apart down the stretch. They are two points behind Dallas and they have to win at Nashville on Thursday and beat San Jose on Saturday to have any hope on the last day of the regular season. Their goal-differential has dipped to minus-13.
18. Washington Capitals (36-30-13; last week-19) - Technically, the Capitals are still alive but they need plenty of help to make the playoffs, along with three more wins. Washington has won its last two games and Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season in Tuesday’s 4-1 win at St. Louis. This is all hollow if they don’t get two points Thursday at Carolina, Friday vs. Chicago or Sunday vs. Tampa Bay.
19. New Jersey Devils (34-29-16; last week-20) – The Devils’ 1-0 loss to Calgary on Monday likely sealed their fate: no playoffs in North Jersey this spring. They still have a flicker of hope but it would take something of a miracle since they have to win their final three games and need either Columbus or Detroit to lose their last three.
20. Toronto Maple Leafs (38-34-8; last week-No. 18) – Toronto’s chances of reaching the playoffs were officially ended on Tuesday as they lost 3-0 at Tampa Bay. How about those Blue Jays, eh? Seriously though, what a disappointing season for the Maple Leafs, who are sure to make a slew of moves before the 2014-15 regular season begins in October.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate