1) Chicago Blackhawks (33-5-4, previous No. 1) – The steamroller is back in full effect as the Blackhawks have won six games in a row. With another two points, they’ll clinch the No. 1 seed in the West which has been a forgone conclusion for most of this season. It doesn’t really happen in the NHL like the NBA but they might want to think about resting stars like Patrick Kane before the playoffs start.
2) Pittsburgh Penguins (32-10-0, previous No. 2) – The Penguins, meanwhile, are running away with the Eastern Conference, they’ve won four in a row and are close to clinching the No. 1 seed in the East. Fears of them struggling (a bit) without Sidney Crosby so far seem silly. They meet their two biggest threats in the East this week: hosting Montreal on Wednesday and at Boston on Friday.
3) Anaheim Ducks (27-10-5, previous No. 3) – The Ducks unexpectedly gave Chicago a decent run for much of this season before they stumbled (5-4-1 in their last 10 games) late in the regular season. They are going to win the Pacific Division and most likely get the No. 2 seed so there is nothing to worry about for Ducks fans. Anaheim hosts Columbus on Wednesday before leaving for a four-game road trip.
4) Montreal Canadiens (26-11-5, previous No. 4) – Predictably, the overachieving Canadiens have come back to Earth (6-4-0 in their last 10 games). They have lost their last two games, including a 7-3 humbling defeat at the hands of the Flyers on Monday that was their worst setback of the season. Defenseman Ian White is expected to receive a long suspension for his dirty hit on Philadelphia’s Kent Huskins.
5) Boston Bruins (26-11-4, previous No. 5) – The B’s haven’t been themselves for the last few weeks (5-4-1 in their last 10 games) but that’s easy to explain with two of their best players (Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand) out with concussions. Jaromir Jagr has been everything and more that they could have expected with a goal and six assists in his first six games with the Bruins. Monday’s game vs. Ottawa was postponed but Boston’s next three games (Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Florida) are all at TD Garden.
6) Vancouver Canucks (24-12-6, previous No. 6) – You could argue that Ryan Kesler is Vancouver’s most important player so it’s impressive that they’ve been this good while their captain missed 31 games this season. He had two goals in Monday’s 5-2 win at Nashville that eliminated the Predators from playoff contention. Up five points on Minnesota (both teams have six games left), Vancouver is in good shape for another Northwest Division title.
7) Toronto Maple Leafs (24-13-5, previous No. 9) – With a win in Washington, the Leafs will clinch their first playoff spot in nine years. They are only three points behind Boston although they have played one more game so getting a top four spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs seems unlikely. Toronto is 7-1-2 in its last 10 games and the Leafs will be happy to see no shootouts (0-5) in the postseason.
8) Los Angeles Kings (24-11-4, previous No. 7) – The Kings are going to make the playoffs and they could be in the top four in the West but they will have their work cut out for them. No NHL team has repeated as champions since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Then again, maybe a shorter regular season like this one will give them a better chance than a normal 82-game schedule.
9) San Jose Sharks (22-13-7, previous No. 8) – The Sharks are still playing good hockey (7-2-1 in their last 10 games) and they are one point behind the Kings for fourth place in the West. No team should want home ice in the playoffs more than San Jose since they are an NHL best 14-1-5 at HP Pavilion. They are one of only four teams (Senators, Rangers, Kings) currently in the playoff picture with a losing record on the road (8-12-2).
10) Washington Capitals (22-17-2 previously No. 12) – It’s easy to forget but this turnaround is remarkable for a team that everyone left for dead when they started 2-8-1. Full credit goes to head coach Adam Oates (in his first season) and the players who have won an NHL-best eight seven games in a row entering tonight’s game vs. Toronto. They look like a good bet to win the Southeast Division and receive the No. 3 seed in the East.
11) Minnesota Wild (23-16-3, previous No. 10) – The Wild are struggling right now (3-6-1 in their last 10 games) which leaves them only two points ahead of No. 9 Columbus although with a game in hand over the Blue Jackets. They are at the Oilers tonight and in San Jose on Thursday before returning to Xcel Energy Center for three games. Minnesota won last night 4-3 at Calgary and they should beat Edmonton-another team that is not going to the playoffs.
12) Ottawa Senators (21-14-6, previous No. 16) – I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve counted out the Senators this season, only to have them prove me wrong again and again. They won their last two games and now they are at Scotiabank Place for four games. They are 13-3-3 at home this season but that will be tested with three tough games this week: Capitals, Maple Leafs and Penguins.
13) St. Louis Blues (23-16-2, previous No. 11) – The Blues have lost their last two games but last week must have restored their confidence in goaltender Brian Elliot. He recorded shutouts in three straight games. They are only one point ahead of Columbus but their next three games (Canucks, Coyotes and Stars) are at Scottrade Center.
14) New York Islanders (21-16-5, previous No. 13) – The Islanders are still one of the hottest teams in the NHL (7-1-2 in their last 10 games) and their 2-1 win last Thursday in Boston might have been their best victory of the season. They host Florida tonight in their last home game of the regular season then they have a five-game road trip. That is daunting but they are 12-5-2 on the road and they play four non-playoff teams: Jets, Hurricanes, Flyers and Sabres.
15) New York Rangers (21-16-4, previous No. 15) – The Rangers are playing some of their best hockey (6-3-1) of this up and down season. Needless to say, they look like they’ll sneak in the playoffs and pity the No. 1-3 seed that gets to face this tough team in the first round. You can count on that series going six or seven games no problem.
16) Detroit Red Wings (20-15-7, previous No. 14) – If Friday’s 3-2 shootout loss in Chicago was a preview of a first-round playoff meeting, we are in for a serious treat. Detroit has very little margin for error since they’re tied with Columbus to get the No. 8 seed at the moment since they’ve played one less game. The Red Wings are on the road for their next two games before coming back to Joe Louis Arena for three games next week.
17) Columbus Blue Jackets (20-16-7, previous No. 20) – There are always a couple good teams that get shut out of the playoffs and right now, the Blue Jackets would be at the top of that list. They are pushing to avoid that distinction since they’ve won their last four games and they are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. They are in the midst of a season-high six-game road trip with four more games left all against quality opponents (Ducks, Kings, Sharks and Stars).
18) Dallas Stars (21-18-3, previous No. 18) – The Stars are running out of time with only six games left while looking up at Detroit (two points ahead) and St. Louis (three points ahead). Rookie sensation Alex Chaisson (6 goals, 1 assist in 6 games) hurt his shoulder in Monday’s 5-2 loss in Chicago. If he’s out, their playoff hopes might go with him.
19) Winnipeg Jets (21-19-2, previously not ranked) – Reports of the Jets’ demise might have been a bit premature since they’ve won their last three games to pull within two points of the Rangers and four points of the Capitals. Their last game was Thursday (a 7-2 beatdown of the hapless Panthers) and now they have three more games at MTS Centre: Lightning, Hurricanes and Islanders. If they get points in those, things could get very interesting in the East.
20) Phoenix Coyotes (18-17-7, previous No. 17) – One of the real surprises of last year’s playoffs looks like they might not get a chance to reprise that role this spring. They are four points behind Detroit with six games to play. They almost have to win out which is a nearly impossible task since their next three games are on the road against St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit.
Follow Metro sports writer Richard Slate on Twitter @RichSlate