The Tampa Bay Lightning is rounding into form at an opportune time and will look to have a strong push down the stretch in a bid to win the Eastern Conference. The work starts tonight when the Lightning travels to Montreal to take on the top team in the east.
Well, we’re finally through the dog days of the season and the trade deadline is in the rear-view mirror. And now things are really getting interesting.
Take tonight, for instance. Montreal hosts Tampa Bay with first place in the Atlantic Division on the line. About the same time, the Islanders host the Rangers in the last game between the rivals at Nassau Coliseum with the Islanders in the mix with the Canadiens and Lightning for first overall in the Eastern Conference. Boston visits Ottawa in a game that could have huge playoff implications and the Stanley Cup champs will try to get back in the playoff picture with a win in Colorado, which has won three straight.
Yup, things are getting fun for sure. And every night is bound to play havoc with our Power Rankings, which sees the Lightning currently on top. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)
1. TAMPA BAY (9): Steven Stamkos recently celebrated his first full year as captain of the Lightning. Really? Has it been that long already? Stamkos likely won’t win the Rocket Richard, but he has a good shot at overtaking Rick Nash for second. Coming up: Two tough road tests, starting with a game at the Bell Centre tonight.
2. N.Y. RANGERS (3): The Rangers couldn’t have thought in their wildest dreams that things would go this well without Henrik Lundqvist. They’re 11-2-3 since King Henrik went down with a vascular injury in his neck/throat and Cam Talbot was named third star of the week. Coming up: After the Islander game, two more on the road against Washington and Buffalo.
3. NASHVILLE (7): The Predators pulled themselves out of an ugly six-game losing streak by beating Arizona 2-1 in overtime in a game in which they had 80 shot attempts. Despite the streak, they’re still hanging onto first place overall in the NHL. Coming up: A chance to get back on track with a weekend trip through California.
4. MINNESOTA (4): Even with a home ice loss to Colorado in its last game, the Wild is still the hottest team in the NHL with an 8-2-0 record in its past 10 and a scorching 16-3-1 mark since the all-star break. Coming up: New Jersey and Anaheim at home, then a tough weekend trip to St. Louis and Nashville.
5. PITTSBURGH (2): A trip through California isn’t quite the imposing obstacle this season it has been in recent years, but coming through the state with points in all three games is still an impressive feat. Coming up: A three-game home stand that starts with a game against Edmonton Thursday night.
6. N.Y. ISLANDERS (10): There’s a good chance Kyle Okposo will be back for tonight’s game against the Rangers after missing the past 23 games with surgery for a detached retina. Coming up: Tonight’s epic against the Rangers, then Ottawa and Montreal stop by for their last-ever visits to Nassau Coliseum.
7. MONTREAL (6): The Canadiens played some of their worst hockey in the season in dropping all three games in California before salvaging the trip with another Carey Price shutout in a 2-0 win over Arizona Sunday. Coming up: Tampa Bay and Ottawa at home, then it’s on the road for another weekend trip.
8. ST. LOUIS (8): The up-and-down Blues took seven of a possible 10 points on their recent road trip and still have their sites on catching Nashville for first in the Central Division. Coming up: The next three at home, where the Blues have lost four of their past six, then the road show continues with the next six out of town.
9. ANAHEIM (1): The Vancouver Canucks pulled off what was thought to be the impossible Monday night when they handed the Ducks their first one-goal loss in regulation time this season. The Ducks were 26-0-7 in one-goal games going into the game. Coming up: On the road in Calgary and Minnesota, then home for the next three.
10. DETROIT (5): The acquisition of Marek Zidlicky at the trade deadline has paid immediate dividends for the Red Wings. He has two goals in four games – both on the power play – and is playing 17 minutes a game. Coming up: At home to Columbus, then four straight on the road.
11. VANCOUVER (13): The Canucks defense corps is slowly returning to good health for the playoff run. Chris Tanev played Monday night after missing the previous 10 games with a concussion and Kevin Bieksa is about a week away from returning from a broken hand. Coming up: The next four at home, starting with Los Angeles Thursday night.
12. WASHINGTON (11): After going scoreless in his first game with the Capitals, Curtis Glencross put up four points in his next two, including a goal and two assists in a blowout over Buffalo on the weekend. Coming up: After a rare four-day rest, the Capitals have their next three at home, where they’re 19-9-5 this season.
13. CHICAGO (14): The Hawks are feeling the effects of life without Patrick Kane. They haven’t scored in their past 15 power plays and have scored either once or been shutout in regulation time in three of their past four games. Coming up: Six of their next seven on the road, starting with a game in Arizona Thursday night.
14. BOSTON (15): The Bruins could finally be rounding into form…maybe. In their game Sunday against Detroit, they not only killed four of five power plays against the best team in the league with the extra man, they scored two shorthanded goals themselves. Coming up: Three of their next four on the road where the Bruins are an ordinary 13-12-5 this season.
15. OTTAWA (16): It doesn’t seem to matter who plays goal for the Senators these days. After seeing Andrew Hammond go eight straight without a regulation loss, Craig Anderson came off the injury list and stopped 42 Calgary shots in a shootout win. Coming up: An enormous game against Boston tonight, then on the road in Montreal and Long Island.
16. WINNIPEG (12): Tyler Myers was always the key to the blockbuster trade with Buffalo before the deadline and he has delivered as expected. What might not have been expected was seeing Drew Stafford chip in with three goals and five points in his first 10 games with the Jets. Coming up: Three remaining on a four-game road trip, starting tonight in St. Louis.
17. CALGARY (18): The Flames took nine of a possible 16 points from a mammoth eight-game road trip, which was capped by a furious comeback that fell short in a 5-4 shootout loss to Ottawa Sunday night. Coming up: Seven of their next eight at home, starting with Anaheim Wednesday night.
18. COLORADO (23): It’s probably too late, but the Avs have won three straight backed by the solid goaltending of Semyon Varlamov, who was named second star of the week for his efforts. Coming up: A three-game home stand starts tonight against Los Angeles, then it’s on the road for five straight.
19. SAN JOSE (17): After enduring a torturous February in which they went 3-8-2, the Sharks have won three of their past four to keep their hopes of a playoff spot alive in the Western Conference. Coming up: Nashville and Chicago at home, then a mammoth seven-game road trip to finish the month. No problem since the Sharks, 17-11-3 away from home, are better on the road than they are at the SAP Center.
20. LOS ANGELES (20): The chances of Slava Voynov playing again this season are growing slimmer. His domestic assault case has been remanded again and jury selection will not begin until April 21, barring a plea bargain. Coming up: A busy three weeks with 11 games, eight of them on the road.
21. FLORIDA (19): No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo hopes to be back in the lineup Thursday night against Winnipeg after suffering a shoulder injury last week. Coming up: At home to the Jets, then back-to-back road games against Carolina and the Rangers this weekend.
22. NEW JERSEY (22): Could a clash with the Devils all-time leading scorer Patrik Elias be in the offing? There have been hints Elias will be given a reduced role, perhaps on the fourth-line next season. To which Elias replied: “I probably wouldn’t (accept) that because I don’t consider myself a fourth-line player and I wouldn’t be useful for this team to play that role. Simple.” Coming up: Three Western Conference road games beginning tonight in Minnesota.
23. PHILADELPHIA (21): The Flyers, who have all but played themselves out of playoff contention, will be without their most productive defenseman for a week after Michael Del Zotto went down with an upper body t on the weekend. Coming up: Home to Dallas tonight, then five of their next six on the road.
24. DALLAS (25): Tyler Seguin, who might have won the scoring championship this season had he not been hurt, picked up right where he left off after missing 10 games with a knee injury. He scored twice in the Stars 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay Saturday. Coming up: The third of a five-game Eastern Conference road trip continues tonight in Philadelphia.
25. CAROLINA (26): One of the few bright spots in what has been an otherwise dismal season, Elias Lindholm notched his first career hat trick and had a five-point game in the Hurricanes 7-4 win over Edmonton Sunday night. Coming up: Three straight at home against beatable teams, which isn’t a good thing when you’re near the bottom of the standings.
26. COLUMBUS (24): The Blue Jackets and Hurricanes face off tonight in a key battle for 25th place. Nobody would have thought that possible at the beginning of the season, but nobody would have thought the Blue Jackets would be wiped out by injuries the way they have. Coming up: On the road to Carolina and Detroit before weekend home games against Edmonton and the Hurricanes.
27. TORONTO (27): The Maple Leafs continue to make news for all the wrong reasons, the latest of which was making Nazem Kadri a healthy scratch Monday night for coming late to a practice. No ramifications for Phil Kessel, who has not shown up for a game in a month. Coming up: Home to Buffalo Wednesday, then a three-game trip through western Canada.
28. EDMONTON (28): The Oilers outplayed Detroit in the first period Monday night and played really hard in the third period, but still lost by three goals, because Edmonton. Coming up: Road games in Pittsburgh and Columbus before six straight at Rexall Place, where the have won 10 and lost 22.
29. ARIZONA (30): Most people in Arizona probably thing Louis Domingue is one of The Three Tenors, but he’s actually the Coyotes backup goalie and he’s showing some real promise for them. Coming up: Five of the next six at home, including Antoine Vermette’s homecoming with the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night.
30. BUFFALO (29): Suffice to say coach Ted Nolan was less than pleased with the work of prospect Mikhail Grigorenko in what turned out to be a brief call-up last week. “I just felt his play on certain parts was very lackadaisical,” Nolan said of Grigorenko’s play against Ottawa Friday night. “Didn’t have any energy or urgency in his game whatsoever.”