Who says the regular season has no meaning?
With just a handful of games remaining, there were plenty of tilts to be played with playoff implications. And while the Detroit Red Wings (ho hum) close in on yet another President’s Trophy, all eyes were on the teams trying desperately to grab the eighth and final playoff spots in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.
In the West, teams such as Nashville, Edmonton and Chicago are hoping for a miracle while in the East Washington, Buffalo, Florida and Toronto are trying to buck the odds that are clearly stacked against them.
It’s going to be a fun finish.
The Sharks remained the NHL’s hottest team and many are jumping on the Evgeni Nabokov-for-the-Hart-and-Vezina bandwagon.
The Red Wings are back. After a funk that lasted a couple of weeks, the Wings have won eight of their past 10, including three in a row. Credit center Pavel Datsyuk’s solid play for the turnaround. The Russian speedster has three goals and seven points in his past four games.
Injuries and suspensions (OK, suspension) have not derailed the mighty Ducks. Top scorer Ryan Getzlaf and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere are the latest Ducks to go down, but the team is still 6-3-1 in its past 10.
The Canadiens domination of the Boston Bruins this season has been something to behold. Montreal won all eight meetings between the longtime rivals and if the Bruins fail to make the playoffs, you now know why.
With five goals and nine points in his past four games, Evgeni Malkin is now a bona fide contender for the Hart Trophy. He has been spectacular in Sidney Crosby’s absence.
Three straight losses have the Devils moving in the wrong direction at a critical point in the season. And a 7-1 shellacking to the Penguins at home could be the low point of the season.
The Blueshirts looked good beating the Penguins and Devils, but took one on the chin, dropping a 4-3 shootout decision to the Flyers. That said, the Rangers did score three third-period goals to force the issue.
If you are looking for a dark horse team, look no further than the Hurricanes. They have hung onto the third seed position in the East and have won three and eight of their past 10. Eric Staal has been superb, chalking up 17 points in nine games.
Bryan Murray has failed to generate any magic in his return behind the bench. The Sens remain a very inconsistent team with goaltending issues. For the record, that is not a good thing heading into the playoffs.
Another inconsistent outfit, the Flames look like world-beaters some nights and an American League team on others. Important back-to-back wins over Colorado and Minnesota appear to have the ship sailing in the right direction now.
Four straight losses have everybody in Dallas shaking their heads. This comes on the heels of a 13 wins in 15 games run. Hate to keep picking on leading scorer Mike Ribeiro, but he has now gone seven games without a goal.
The Wild have been on a slide of late, but the good news is rookie Benoit Pouliot responded after being given his most playing time (13:21) by scoring his first two NHL goals in a loss to the Flames. Veteran Sean Hill, who was a healthy scratch in 14 of 20 games, will be counted on to fill in for Kurtis Foster, who is out with a broken leg.
The Canucks won three straight before dropping a 2-1 decision to the Wild Friday. After registering three points in a game March 15, Brendan Morrison was pointless in his next three.
Goalie Martin Biron was superb in making 32 saves as the Flyers dumped the Islanders 4-1 Sunday. Mike Richards has points in three straight games.
These Caps simply refuse to go away. And if the Bruins continue to flounder, don’t be surprised if Washington bolts past them into the playoffs. Mike Green is second in goals among defensemen with 17, but hasn’t scored in 11 games.
Is the dream over? The Avs have dropped four straight and are in danger of sliding out of the playoffs. Oh, and here’s a shocker, Peter Forsberg has missed six of the past seven games with a groin injury.
A home-and-home series with the Maple Leafs will be either a season-maker or season-breaker for both clubs. Boston was humiliated by the Canadiens who beat them eight times this season.
The suddenly carefree Oilers scored 15 goals in two wins and have won 11 of their past 14 games. Credit veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson for picking up the slack when Mathieu Garon went down.
The Panthers won a team record seven straight, lost in a shootout to Carolina and then got back to their winning ways beating Tampa Bay 4-2. Tomas Vokoun made 35 saves against the Lightning.
Another team teasing its fans with a late surge, the Maple Leafs played superbly, beating Ottawa Saturday night. Matt Stajan has emerged as a leader and has a career-best 16 goals.
The Predators snapped a two-game losing streak with a 2-1, shootout win over pesky Chicago. J-P Dumont leads the Preds with eight game-winners.
The Sabres erupted for 20 goals in three victories before losing 4-1 to Toronto. Thomas Vanek’s third hat trick of the season lifted Buffalo to a 7-4 win over Tampa Bay, a game in which the Sabres trailed 4-1 in the third period.
The Hawks snapped a four-game losing streak with an impressive 6-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. That said, it looks like the Blackhawks will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season. No question, however, this organization is moving in the right direction.
Five straight defeats have pretty much eliminated the Coyotes from the playoffs. Too bad, they really worked hard in the second half.
Back-to-back losses to Detroit was the final nail in the coffin for the Blue Jackets. Captain Rick Nash has 10 points in his past six games.
The Islanders’ top three scorers are a combined minus-53. Ouch! GM Garth Snow has to figure out a way to coax some true frontline talent to sign with this team in the off-season if it stands any chance of making the playoffs next season.
Paul Kariya has gone an incredible 19 games without scoring a goal. And he’s minus-8 in that span.
Ho hum, three straight losses. Vinny Lecavalier’s 40 goals this season gives him 92 in two seasons.
Dustin Brown’s 31 goals are 14 more than his previous single-season high.
Coach-GM Don Waddell has been assured he’ll return even though the Thrashers will miss the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. They’ve also dropped five games in a row.
The Hockey News ranks the teams 1-30 on Mondays. Changes in rankings reflect each team’s play from the previous seven days.
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