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Posted: Tuesday March 31, 2009 1:54PM; Updated: Friday April 3, 2009 1:19PM
Allan Muir Allan Muir >

Bruins No. 1 by default

Top four have holes and questions, here come Hurricanes and Blues

Story Highlights

Bruins regain the top spot despite loose defense; Wings still have hole in net

The once-torrid Devils went stone cold as the Blue Jackets' collars got tighter

Penguins and Hurricanes are looking like first-round foes no one wants to see

Biggest Climb: St. Louis Blues (18 to 10)

Biggest Fall: Ottawa Senators (13 to 22)

A reminder: these rankings are based primarily on recent quality of play, with overall record and my remarkably intuitive gut calls worked into the mix. Heck, if I went strictly off record, these would be no different than the standings, and you already know where to find those. Also worth noting: statistics and records are through Sunday's games.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings? Scroll to the bottom of this page for my Mailbag. I read 'em all and if you're halfway civil -- or at least clever in your skewering of my decisions -- I'll try to get back to you.

NHL Power Rankings
1Boston Bruins
Last Week: 3
Boston Bruins (48-17-9)
If you're always looking on the bright side of life, they've won three straight, with five power play goals in their last 10 chances. They've also given up 128 shots over that span, an average of nearly 43 per game. The W's are all that matter, but this No. 1-by-default team could use some defensive fine-tuning before the playoffs. Last week: 3-0
2San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
San Jose Sharks (49-15-11)
So, Sharks fans, what's more important: going all out to win the Presidents' Trophy (and the home ice that goes with it) or taking a cautious approach with several banged-up key players in order to rest them for the postseason? For my money, it's the latter. Better to tuck Patrick Marleau, Ryan Clowe and Marcel Goc into bed for an extra couple of days and keep the eyes on the real prize. Last week: 1-1-1
3Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 8
Meet the team no one wants to face in the first round. They went 10-1-2 in March and have just that one regulation loss in their last 15. The new, aggressive style seems to be sitting well with Sidney Crosby: 25 points is a 15-game scoring streak. Now if they would just get Evgeni Malkin off the point on the power play. Maybe if they could enter the zone with speed, they'd start making something happen with the extra man. Last week: 2-0
4Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 1
There were soothing words from the coach ("I'm not disappointed in our competition level one bit," Mike Babcock said) and solace taken from clinching their eighth straight Central Division title despite Sunday's loss to the Preds. So, no need to worry about their proclivity for costly turnovers and two more forgettable performances from Chris Osgood, right? Anyone? Last week: 1-3
5Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 6
Not to suggest messing with a winning formula, but isn't it time to give Alex Burrows a little more ice? In just 12:09 against the Hawks -- his second-lightest workload of the season -- his 26th goal and pair of assists paced a 4-0 win. And those 26 goals? Not a one on the power play. Might want to think about giving him a chance there too, eh? Last week: 3-1
6Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 11
The gritty, come-from-behind win over the Devils on Saturday set a franchise mark with a 10-1-2 March. Cam Ward has allowed just five goals in his last four starts and is looking like the guy who won the Conn Smythe back there in '06. Last week: 3-0
7Washington Capitals
Last Week: 5
How's this for a parting gift? Not one of their final six games is against a team currently in the playoffs. That doesn't mean the Lightning, Thrashers and Panthers will roll over -- they've got their pride, ya know -- but the schedule should allow the Caps to build some momentum heading into the postseason. Last week: 1-0-1
8Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 7
The big question down the stretch is as it ever was: will they get the goaltending to match the impact of their ferocious forwards? Impossible to say until he proves himself in the playoffs, but Martin Biron (2.31 GAA, .934 save pct. in March) is playing well enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt. Last week: 2-2
9New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 4
That 11-game home win streak? Forgotten. Now they have to pull out of a tailspin after losing three on the road and blowing a 1-0 lead in the dying minutes at home to the hot Canes. First order of business: discourage opposing forwards from making Marty Brodeur's life miserable by any means necessary. Last week: 0-2-1
10St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 18
St. Louis Blues (37-30-9)
What's not to love? Knockaround guy Chris Mason was the league's First Star of the week ? again ? with four wins and a 1.72 GAA. T.J. Oshie has the hot stick (4-6-10 in his last nine) and spent the weekend planting Rick Nash on his behind. Suddenly, amazingly, the playoffs are a real possibility. Fun team like this? Wouldn't hurt my feelings if they made it. Last week: 4-0
11Nashville Predators
Last Week: 12
Does it ever pay to doubt them? Every time I write them off, they manufacture wins out of nothing (like Sunday's triumph in Detroit, where they were badly outplayed) and prove me wrong. Injuries are mounting, though. David Legwand and Martin Erat this week joined Jason Arnott and Ryan Jones on the IR. It has to catch up to them eventually, right? Right? Last week: 3-0
12Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 9
All they had to do was take care of business down the stretch to give their fans reason to queue up for playoff tickets on April 11. Now, after four sub-par efforts in their last five outings, they have to do some soul searching and figure out if they're up to this challenge. Probably wouldn't hurt to give Steve Mason a night off along the way, too. He looks tired again. Last week: 1-1-2
13Calgary Flames
Last Week: 10
Calgary Flames (43-26-6)
The Northwest Division -- and first-round home ice guarantee that comes with it -- is slipping away after a sloppy 6-8 March. They were shut out by Pittsburgh and Columbus as the power play stumbled through a 1-for-19 week. Last week: 2-2
14Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 15
Wins over the Sharks and Devils? Nice. So, what's with showing up at 8:15 for that 6 pm start against the Canucks on Sunday in what, arguably, was their biggest game of the season? The Hawks sure looked like the NHL's youngest team in that 4-0 spanking. Last week: 2-1
15Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 17
Anaheim Ducks (38-32-6)
They won six of their last seven to pull within a point of the West's final playoff spot, so it's time for coach Randy Carlyle to hop on down from the fence and decide which goalie he wants to ride down the stretch. Jonas Hiller's recent play -- and clearly superior stats -- give him the edge over J-S Giguere. Last week: 3-1
16Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 22
Minnesota Wild (36-32-8)
Five games. Four goals. Seven points. Marian Gaborik's return after 66 games on the shelf hasn't propelled them into the playoffs (at least, not yet), but with him and Mikko Koivu back in the lineup, they could make things interesting. Last week: 2-2
17New York Rangers
Last Week: 14
They're 8-3-1 in their last 12, but they don't feel like a team that is rounding into form in time for the playoffs. They've lost three of four and, with injuries chopping off an already suspect blueline at the knees, need to find their legs down the stretch. Too bad the schedule makers saddled them with a brutal finish. Last week: 1-1-1
18Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 21
Buffalo Sabres (37-30-8)
Last week's word was comeback -- as in Ryan Miller has come back from the IR and they have come back from the dead, thanks to a pair of comeback wins over the Panthers and Habs. Last week: 3-0
19Florida Panthers
Last Week: 19
Florida Panthers (37-28-11)
You won't find Craig Anderson among the six nominees on the ballot for their March MVP, but it's hard to argue that anyone's been more important. He spent most of the month on the bench, but stepped up with the playoffs on the line and delivered 72 saves in crucial wins over the Flyers and Stars. Last week: 2-1-1
20Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 16
Edmonton Oilers (36-31-9)
Dwayne Roloson won't win the Hart Trophy, but he sure belongs in the conversation. Even as their season slips away, the impending free agent continues to make his case as the team's MVP. It's hard to imagine them not handing him fat stacks this summer after watching him at his larcenous best in a 51-save effort against the Ducks. Last week: 1-3
21Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 20
Anyone else have the feeling that Ilya Kovalchuk's blistering finish is the coda to his career in Atlanta? Four goals in his last five games gave him 40 on the season, but rumors are swirling that he'll be dealt at the draft. Montreal and L.A. are logical destinations. Last week: 2-1
22Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 13
Ottawa Senators (33-32-10)
There'll be playoff hockey in Ottawa this spring! Well, not NHL playoff hockey -- losses to the Thrashers and Canes quashed those quixotic hopes. But with scheduling conflicts tying up their rink, the AHL's Binghamton Sens may be forced to play a game or two at Scotiabank Place. Better than nothing, eh? Last week: 1-2
23Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 26
So if the Habs go up for sale, there's talk that the provincial pension fund could step forward as an investor, which should answer the prayers of all those fans who've dreamt of seeing their team run just like the Maple Leafs. Last week: 2-0-1
24Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 24
You can't draft for need, but you can sure trade for it. While they should add a top-end prospect with another top-10 pick this summer, they have an immediate opening for a proven scorer to bolster the league's worst five-on-five offense. Gaborik's risky, Kovalchuk's expensive. Both could be at the top of LA's wish list. Last week: 1-1-1
25Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 25
Okay, so Justin Pogge got lit up like Foster Brooks at a Dean Martin roast by the Bruins. Instead of demoting him to the AHL, shouldn't the Leafs have given the impending RFA the rest of this lost season to prove his value? Isn't on-the-job training (failures and all) part of the process for a rebuilding team? Last week: 1-2
26Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 27
Phoenix Coyotes (31-37-7)
Seven. That's how many wins they've racked up since the All-Star break. Not surprisingly, that is the fewest W's in the NHL over that span. The good news is the commish says they're not going anywhere, so Phoenix fans can look forward to six more months of bad hockey and lame excuses next season! Last week: 1-1
27New York Islanders
Last Week: 28
Calling on Brendan Witt in the shootout raised a few eyebrows, but no one should accuse them of tanking it. Shutting out the Wings made for nice headlines, but seeing creaky old Doug Weight drop 'em in one of four fights against the Flyers proved this team is willing to compete. Last week: 1-1-1
28Dallas Stars
Last Week: 23
Dallas Stars (33-33-9)
To paraphrase Aaron Neville (whose voice kind of whips me, to be honest), church bells are ringing in Dallas. Now that the Panthers have toasted Marty Turco (five goals on Saturday; the 21st time the Stars have fished five pucks out of their net), the NBA's Mavericks will have American Airlines Center to themselves this spring. Last week: 0-2-1
29Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 29
If Rick Tocchet has his way, next year's edition will have a bit more fire in its belly. "When you get pushed around, you have to push back," he said. "I'm not talking about dropping the gloves, just playing good, clean, tough hockey. Be abrasive. We need abrasive players on this team." Let's see if Brian Lawton is listening. Last week: 1-2-1
30Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 30
18.8. No, not how many goals they gave up in three losses this week (it was only 15). It's the percentage of 29th-ranked Colorado's chance to earn the first overall pick in this summer's draft. See? There is a bright side to losing seven straight! Last week: 0-3

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