After a rocky patch, the Anaheim Ducks are back for end of the regular season where they started it – as the No. 1 team in thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings. Now can we just get on with the playoffs already?
And while we’re at it, do you think there’s any way we can lobby the NHL head office to put all the first-round games between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings to 4 p.m. local time so we can all watch them at a reasonable hour? It’s a shame that one of those teams will be out after the first round, but we can all enjoy it while it lasts. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)
1. ANAHEIM (1): The Ducks finally wrapped up the Pacific Division title with a convincing 5-2 win over San Jose Wednesday night. Now they just might have a goaltending issue to deal with going into the playoffs. With Jonas Hiller struggling and Frederik Andersen hurt, the Ducks turned to 20-year-old rookie John Gibson and he responded by picking up two wins, including a shutout in his NHL debut. All told, he stopped 54 of 56 shots.
2. BOSTON (3): The Bruins essentially wrapped up the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference titles with their torrid record in March, so we probably shouldn’t make much of their mediocre play of late. For example, in a 4-3 shootout loss to Minnesota Tuesday night, the Bruins sat out David Krejci,Jarome Iginla and Kevan Miller and jumbled up their lines. Even so, the Bruins have points in each of their past three games.
3. COLORADO (2): The Avs continue to roll along without Matt Duchene, compiling a 4-0-1 record since he was injured. Actually, the Avs have been without four starting forwards for their past four games, but their only loss came to Pittsburgh in a shootout. As a result, the Avs could actually end up winning the Central Division, which would rank as one of the most surprising developments of the season.
4. CHICAGO (10): No Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane has not been a problem for the Blackhawks, who have won four straight and, shockingly, picked up just its first overtime win of the season in a 3-2 win over Montreal on home ice Wednesday night after going 0-7 in the extra five minutes. Kane has begun skating on his own with a brace on his injured knee and says he’ll be ready to go once the playoffs start.
5. PITTSBURGH (9):Marc-Andre Fleury made two of the most acrobatic shootout saves you’ll see to give the Penguins a 4-3 win over Detroit Wednesday night. The win was their 51st of the season, marking the second time in franchise history the Penguins have eclipsed the half-century mark in wins. More importantly, the Detroit game marked the first for defenseman Kris Letang, who hadn’t played since Jan. 29 after suffering a stroke.
6. ST. LOUIS (4): The team that was once in a dogfight for the Presidents’ Trophy might not even win its own decision after a three-game funk during which the Blues have given up four goals in each game. To make matters worse, captain David Backes was hit by a shot from teammate Alex Steen in a 4-1 loss to Washington Tuesday night. He left the game and is expected to be out of the lineup when the Blues visit Minnesota Thursday night.
7. SAN JOSE (5): Let the hand wringing begin. The Sharks have lost two straight and four of their past six and look as though they’re flagging as the season winds down. Their 5-2 loss to Anaheim Wednesday relegated them to a first-round series against Los Angeles in which they’ll have home ice advantage. The Sharks are 2-2-1 against the Kings this season, but one of those victories came in a shootout.
8. MINNESOTA (14): The Wild’s 4-3 shootout win over Boston Tuesday night – their fourth come-from-behind victory in their past six – clinched a playoff spot and locked them in as the seventh seed in the Western Conference, meaning they’ll play the No. 2 seed in the first round of the playoffs. If you can believe it, Ilya Bryzgalov is 7-0-3 for the Wild since coming at the trade deadline. Rookie defenseman Christian Folin, who signed as a free agent out of Massachusetts-Lowell, could make his debut Thursday night against St. Louis.
9. MONTREAL (12): The Canadiens blew an opportunity to pick up their third straight win and increase their lead over Tampa Bay when they squandered a 2-1 lead in the final minute of the game and lost 3-2 to Chicago in overtime. Should Max Pacioretty score a goal in the Canadiens final two games of the season, he’ll become the first 40-goal scorer for the franchise since Vincent Damphousse hit the 40 mark 20 years ago.
10. LOS ANGELES (6): The Kings have lost three in a row – including back-to-back losses to bottom feeders Vancouver and Calgary - but there’s probably not a team in the league that anyone would rather face less in the first round of the playoffs. In a preview of their first-round series, the Kings lost to San Jose last week, the only regulation-time loss they’ve suffered at the hands of the Sharks this season.
11. COLUMBUS (16): Five years and one day after clinching their only playoff spot in franchise history, the Blue Jackets officially punched their ticket to the post-season with a 3-1 win over Dallas Wednesday night. If defenseman James Wisniewski can score one point in the final two games of the season, he’ll match his career high of 51, which he hit when he split the season between Montreal and the Islanders in 2010-11.
12. TAMPA BAY (8): The Lightning’s playoff fortunes will almost certainly be dictated by the status of goalie Ben Bishop, who left the 3-0 victory over Toronto Tuesday night after injuring his left arm awkwardly diving for a puck. Then again, if Kristers Gudlevskis, who was called up from the minors, can play in the NHL as well as he played against Canada in the Olympics, the Lightning still might have a few more surprises in store.
13. PHILADELPHIA (15): It took 79 games and a win over the second-worst team in the NHL, but Philadelphia’s 5-2 victory over Florida Tuesday night clinched a playoff berth for the Flyers, an achievement that looked all but impossible to reach after the team got off to a 4-10-1 start to the season. Steve Mason got his 33rd win of the season in the game, which matched a career high. Vincent Lecavalier scored his 20th goal of the season, making him the seventh Flyer to hit that mark in 2013-14.
14. NY RANGERS (7): The Rangers are battling for home-ice advantage in the first round, but they’d certainly be as comfortable playing on the road, where their 25-14-1 record is far superior to their 19-17-4 mark at Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, Mats Zuccarello has quietly emerged as the Rangers go-to offensive player with 19 goals and 58 points, tops among players who have spent all season with the team.
15. DETROIT (11): The Red Wings finally wrapped up their 23rd straight season in the playoffs when they earned a point in a 4-3 shootout loss in Pittsburgh Wednesday night. Fittingly, it took a goal by Riley Sheahan with 1:15 remaining in regulation time to give the Red Wings the point they needed to qualify. The Red Wings will have a challenge getting beyond the first round since they’ll either face Boston or Pittsburgh in Round 1.
16. DALLAS (13): If the Stars fail to make the playoffs this season, they may very well be able to point to a 3-2 loss to lowly Florida Sunday night in which they blew a 2-0 lead. Chances are, all eyes will be on the Stars and Phoenix when both teams wrap up their season Sunday night with a game that could decide which of the two teams is going to the playoffs this season.
17. PHOENIX (17): The Coyotes have picked a most inopportune time to start leaving points on the table, but they’ve done exactly that with three of their past four losses coming either in overtime or shootouts. If the Coyotes are going to make the playoffs, they’ll probably have to do it without goalie Mike Smith, who is practicing with the team but has no set timetable for a return.
18. WASHINGTON (20):Alex Ovechkin will undoubtedly pick up another individual award when he takes the Rocket Richard Trophy, but the 50-goal scorer won’t be going to the playoffs this season. Oh well, at least it saves the Capitals from underachieving in the post-season they way they usually do. Not that it matters, but there was a minor controversy when coach Adam Oates said Jaroslav Halak, “wasn’t 100 percent comfortable” starting against St. Louis Tuesday night, which Halak’s agent vehemently denied.
19. NASHVILLE (23): Another team that is playing like gangbusters once they’ve been eliminated, the Predators have points in each of their past four games. Missing the playoffs for the second straight time will almost certainly cost Barry Trotz, the only coach the franchise has ever known, his job. Pekka Rinne’s next victory will be the 162nd of his career, which would give him the No. 1 spot for wins among goaltenders in franchise history.
20. CALGARY (27): How much stock should you put into a team that plays well and wins games after it has been eliminated from the playoffs? Zippo. But the Flames deserve their elevated status for playing hard all year and for refusing to tank in order to get a higher draft pick. There are signs of life in Calgary, but the Flames progress will continue to be a work in progress in the extremely competitive Western Conference.
21. OTTAWA (25): As an incredibly disappointing season comes to an end, the Senators have a lot of work ahead of them this summer. First on their to-do list will be finding a way to give up fewer shots and prime scoring chances, something that killed their chances of making the playoffs this season. Ales Hemsky has scored at a point-per-game pace since coming over from Edmonton at the trade deadline and has meshed well with Jason Spezza.
22. NEW JERSEY (19): With their playoff hopes on the line, the Devils couldn’t even score a goal against Calgary Monday night and will watch the playoffs from the sidelines for the second straight season after advancing to the Stanley Cup final in 2012. The Devils can thank their woeful 0-11 record in shootouts for that. The disappointment is wearing on the Devils – coach Peter DeBoer called his team’s effort in practice Wednesday "a (expletive) disgrace," then stormed off the ice.
23. TORONTO (18): Reports surfaced Wednesday that the Leafs had reached out to Brendan Shanahan to take a senior role in their hockey department, but what the Leafs need even more is a player of Shanahan’s ilk on the ice. This team is too small and easy to play against and has a serious void in the leadership department. Other than that, all is good with a team that has missed the playoffs just once in the past nine years, leading to speculation that coach Randy Carlyle will be dismissed.
24. VANCOUVER (26): Well, it’s been a rather eventful week in Vancouver, with the Canucks dumping Mike Gillis as GM and hiring Trevor Linden as president of hockey operations. Linden’s first order of business will be finding a GM, who will have a ton of decisions to make when it comes to shaping the roster. The second will be to decide what to do with coach John Tortorella, who seems destined to be looking for work after this season.
25. WINNIPEG (22): Why don’t the Jets just do the inevitable and trade Evander Kane this summer. It’s obvious that Kane, neither the player nor the off-ice personality, is going to fly in Winnipeg. Kane was a healthy scratch for last weekend’s win over Toronto and professed to have no idea why that was the case. Despite the fact his team is out, coach Paul Maurice put his team through a one hour, 40 minute practice Wednesday and the last half of the practice featured no pucks.
26. CAROLINA (24): That Stanley Cup in 2006 seems so long ago now. The Hurricanes have made the playoffs only once since then and have missed the post-season each of the past five seasons, a fate that was sealed with a 4-1 loss to the Rangers Tuesday night. Coach Kirk Muller has one year remaining on his contract, but has yet to receive any assurances from ownership that he’ll be back behind the bench next season.
27. NY ISLANDERS (21): After a nice little three-game winning streak, the Islanders reverted back to their old ways with three straight losses, giving up four goals in each defeat. Judging by how they’ve played at the Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders can’t wait to move to Brooklyn. Their 4-1 loss to Ottawa Tuesday night was their 19th of the season on home ice, giving them a losing record at home each of the past four seasons.
28. EDMONTON (28): The Oilers play two meaningless games this weekend against Los Angeles and Vancouver, unless of course they can find a way to be overtaken by Florida in the standings, which would guarantee them the No. 2 seed in the NHL’s draft lottery and a pick no lower than third overall. The Oilers certainly didn’t help their cause by recording wins over Phoenix and Anaheim.
29. FLORIDA (29): Losers of six of their past seven, the Panthers have done little to encourage their fan base. Their past three announced crowds have been fewer than 14,000, which we’re willing to bet would put them somewhere in the 10,000 range when it comes to actual bums in the seats. Of course, that’s to be expected when you’re hopelessly out of the playoffs and go 2-8-0 down the stretch. But they have kids. Lots of kids. Never heard that before.
30. BUFFALO (30): The only two teams the Sabres have beaten in the last month have been Edmonton and New Jersey – and the win over the Devils was in a shootout. The Sabres wrapped up last overall in the league for the first time in their history, but avoided more ignominy with two goals in a 4-2 loss to Detroit Tuesday night. That gave them 152 goals, one more than the 151 recorded by the 1997-98 Tampa Bay Lightning, the lowest scoring team in franchise history. But three of those goals have come as the result of shootout winners.