1) San Jose- (3) The Sharks are back a top our rankings as they are also the entire NHL heading into the post season. Looks like they are headed for their first Presidents' Trophy. However, as we have mentioned all season, its all about 16 W's in the spring, not the regular season. Good news is that Jonathan Cheechoo seems to be getting hot at the right time
2) Detroit- (1) A testament to their consistency of excellence, the Wings are the third team in history to notch four consecutive 50-win seasons. Additionally, Mike Babcock is the only coach to win 50 games in his first four seasons with a team. Congrats! That said, cracks in their armour have been evident/can be exploited.
3) Boston (5)- The beasts of the East, the Bruins clinched home ice throughout the first 3 rounds by winning their conference. With a solid 3 scoring lines, shut down defense, and Vezina goaltending the B's are set to compete for the silver trophy!
4) Carolina- (11) No team has been hotter/better the past couple of weeks. Punctuated with a monster showing 9-0 against the Islanders last night. Its arguable that Cam Ward is playing better than when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. Not the team we'd want to face in the opening round!
5) Chicago- (8)- Seem to be playing well at the right time. Outside of Carolina, no one is playing better recently. Now the hard part, which goalie do they start for the playoffs? The UFA to be Khabibulin who has a Cup to his resume, or the guy they paid big bucks, Huet, who has yet to win in the spring?
6) Washington- (9) Despite Ovechkin having a shot at a second consecutive scoring title with 15 points in his past six games, its the secondary scoring that has bolstered Caps fans hopes of a long playoff run. Still, the key will be how well their goaltending can take them
7) Anaheim-(24) Fear the Ducks! That's what SJ should be doing. The former champs are playing their best hockey to salvage their season and propel themselves into the playoffs where they could be a dangerous, some might say, sleeper team. The line of Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan is as good as any right now
8) Pittsburgh- (7) Like the Ducks have been playing well to salvage a playoff spot. Firing Therrian seemed to be the tonic the team needed. Can they repeat as conference champs? Never underestimate teams that have been there before!
9) St. Louis- (16) Up significantly since our last rankings. On the precipice of a playoff berth. They hold their fates in their own hands. They are a solid 7-2-1 in their last 10, being propelled by David Backes, who topped the 30-goal mark. It would be a nice story if the Blues were able to hold on
10) Vancouver-(10) Maintain their top 10 spot with an up and down few weeks. Won last night to continue their challenge of the Flames for the division. With two each to go its any one's to win and gain home ice the first round. As we mentioned last time around similar to NJ in that their Vezina calibre goalie, Roberto Luongo, will go into the post season relatively rested.
11) Philadelphia-(4) Dropped a bit in our rankings, as they lost a chance to win their division despite Jersey's swoon. Still going to be a tough squad to go against for the playoffs. Will go as far as Biron can take them. Too bad they don't have a better tender, as they would challenge Boston for the conference.
12) Columbus-(15) All but have clinched the franchises first ever playoff berth. The good news, they only lost twice in regulation in their past 10. The bad news, only 4 regulation wins in that span. They'll have to improve that consistency to hang around long in the post season
13) New Jersey (2) Went from Cup contender to pretender? Seems since Brodeur set the wins record the Devils have been in cruise control at half speed, winning only 3 of their past 10. can they turn it back up next week? Could Adams candidate Brent Sutter's job be in jeopardy? On any other team we'd say no.
14) Calgary- (6) Lost a big game last night to Vancouver for the division crown/home ice the first round. The team is playing very inconsistently the past few weeks opening the door to the Canucks to steal the NW. It could mean the difference of a Chicago match-up instead of an apparent easier Bluejackets first round opponent.
15) NY Rangers (17) Playing just good enough to make the playoffs. Still haven't clinched, but merely need 1 win in their final 2 games to qualify regardless what Fla does. A rematch of the Sean Avery-Tim Thomas altercation in the playoffs could make for a compelling story. Scary stat for John Tortorella: Rangers haven't scored in the 3rd period in their last 8 games!
16) Minnesota- (19) Playoffs appear to be out of reach for 'The Gum Chewer''s team. Great goaltending by Niklas Backstrom has not been enough. Playing around .500 the past few weeks hasn't helped their chances. We believe we've seen the last of Lemaire behind the Wild bench(which probably means Gaborik will return)
17) Montreal- (13) The Habs continued their slide and have barely held on to their playoff positioning. A far cry from mid season when they were a lock to be a 4th seed at least. Alex Kovalev has been hot as has the team's PP, but with the losses of Markov and Schneider for the playoffs, their chances of advancement is slim to none
18) Nashville- (12) Their up and down season appears ready to end on the down side as they are on the outside looking in for the playoffs. Going 4-3-3 in the past few weeks is not a way to advance. Still, we are impressed how Barry Trotz has kept this team in the race all season long.
19) Florida- (14) By playing barely .500 the past few weeks the Panthers have probably blown their shot at making the playoffs for the first time in 9 years! Unless they win their last 2 and the Rangers lose their final 2 games its another near-miss. Also look for Jay Bowmeester to become a UFA and leave the sinking ship. How much longer will the team stay put/alive in south Fla?
20) Buffalo- (20) Just about out of the playoffs. Only a miracle would get them in now, and winning only 4 of their past 10 is the reason for the disappointment. Even the return of Ryan Miller to the nets hasn't turned the tide. Can we finally agree that Lindy Ruff is an over rated coach?
21) Phoenix- (29) Seemed poised to vie for the Taveres sweep stakes, but have been playing better recently to pull them out of the bottom 3 (they still could win the lottery). They have gone 7-6-2 since the trade deadline. Might they deal goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in the off season? Do they need a new coach? Overall a disappointing season in the desert. Another franchise that might be on the move soon.
23) Edmonton- (21) Like Buffalo, mathematically still alive, but on life support. The plug gets pulled soon! Winning a mere 3 of their last 10 should be cause for changes behind the bench despite their owners support of McTavish. Also, Sam Gagner has suffered a huge soph slump, and the team has been only average at Rexall all season.
24) Dallas- (23) Eliminated themselves from the playoff hunt in the past couple of weeks by winning only 2 of their past 10 games. can't blame Sean Avery for this. The team can probably point to the loss of star forward Brad Richards as the point that their season ended
25) Toronto- (18) After a brief spurt, the Leafs have returned to playing at or near .500 and are poised for another non playoff/lottery season-No man's land. Perhaps Paul Maurice wasn't the problem? Folks in Carolina probably don't mind. Lets see what the GM-genius, Brian Burke can come up with this off season
26) Atlanta (22) To their credit they have played teams tough despite playing for only pride at this point. Johan Hedberg is playing for another NHL contract. Their better play may have cost their shot at Hedmen/Taveres, but will probably still be a lottery team. Things may look promising on the ice, but off its far from certain the franchise can survive in Atlanta
27) Los Angeles (26) We'd have to say this was a disappointing season in LA. Like Phoenix, we expected more from this bunch. They also probably will finish with too many points to get into lottery contention. A lost season perhaps, but with a few moves/maturation we can see the Kings in the post season next spring
28) Tampa Bay-(30) With the bottom 3 teams garnering an impressively bad 4 wins in their past combined 30 games, it was difficult to place these teams. Just when you thought the season couldn't get any worse, captain Vincent Lecavalier's season ended because of wrist surgery(might he be done in TB?) An example on how bad things have been:the Lightning hold the NHL record for most defenseman used in one season- 21
29) NY Islanders-(25) It was a coin toss on who to place 30th. Especially after their implosion last night in Raleigh. However, they did manage to stay near .500 since the All-Star break, whereas the Avs have been abysmal in this time period. Still, being 29th is no prize. Looks like they have the bottom spot locked up and a guarantee of either Taveres or Hedman depending on who wins the lottery.
30) Colorado (28) Not only their first sub. 500 record since moving to Denver in 1995, but also a lottery season, although they probably blew the chance to finish last. Also perhaps they will learn that Tony Granato isn't the right man for the job in Colorado? All in all it would be a shame that captain Joe Sakic might end his career this way