Posted: Tue April 16, 2013 3:23PM; Updated: Tue April 16, 2013 3:23PM
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater>INSIDE THE NHL

Blackhawks top Power Rankings as playoffs near

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Nick Leddy
The Blackhawks aren't taking it easy as they wait for the playoff spotlight to start shining on them.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Two weeks to go.

Our rankings have been pretty well stabilized the last few weeks with Chicago and Pittsburgh consistently the top two teams with a mildly fluctuating mix below.

We don't see much changing from now until the final regular season games, but playoff spots are still up for grabs. Probably the most exciting race for the final spot is in the East, where the Islanders and Rangers are trying to hold off the Jets.

Then again, the race between Red Wings and Blue Jackets in the West looks to be a good one, too.

On to the list...

NHL Power Rankings
1Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
Playoff tickets went on sale Monday, one day after a fine 2-0 victory over the Blues in St. Louis. Chicago showed another team with Western title aspirations that the route to it will likely run through the United Center. The Blues tried to muscle the Hawks, who proved able to adapt. This is not the fancy-skating, low-grit team of last season. "It seemed like a playoff game," Hawks winger Marian Hossa told the Chicago Tribune. "Physical, not much room to move, basically just a grind game. You don't have much room to dangle or play the nice hockey like we do sometimes during the season. That was a good test for us and we passed it." Chicago entered Tuesday with a six-point lead for the President's Trophy. Last week: 4-0-0
 
2Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 2
On the ice before practice on Monday were none other than Sidney Crosby and James Neal, and that was a welcome sight for Pens fans. Crosby, who has missed the last six games with a broken jaw, only did some light skating, but obviously this is a great sign that he'll be back for the playoffs. Neal, coach Dan Bylsma said, is symptom-free after a recent concussion. Paul Martin (hand) also skated, and Kris Letang recently returned from his own lower body injury problems. It would be ideal if Crosby could get a couple games in before the playoffs, to get some timing back. But if anyone can just jump in cold, it's Sid. One gripe, though, about the Pens' injury disclosure policy: can we please stop being told that there is "no timetable" on any player's progress? The Pens say that about every player, no matter how close they are to returning, and it's stupid. Last week: 3-0-0
 
3Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 5
To these eyes, they are right there again, ready for a good playoff run. They don't have as many points as the Ducks, but they are playing better right now. Best news of all: Jonathan Quick. His saves percentage (.898 entering Monday) still doesn't look good, but he's making big saves in key games again, especially in that 2-1 win over the Ducks on Saturday. "It seems like he's getting in his groove right now and that's exactly what we need as the end of the season approaches and the playoffs come," defenseman Drew Doughty told reporters. Doughty hasn't been bad lately himself, with six points in his previous six games. Last week: 2-1-0
 
4Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 3
Anaheim Ducks (27-10-5)
They looked terrible in a 4-1 home loss to Colorado, prompting coach Bruce Boudreau to proclaim: "When we stink, we stink." But this team was bound for something of a letdown. It's had the Pacific Division wrapped up for a while. Players can be excused for not being as motivated for late-season games, especially when many are probably dog-tired from the condensed schedule, not to mention nursing bumps and bruises. The Ducks followed up their loss to the Avs with a 2-1 setback against the Kings. It was a great, hard-edged game. If these two meet in the playoffs, wow. I want tickets. Boudreau, by the way, said he will go with the hottest goalie to start the postseason. That means it'll be a competition between Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller during the final two weeks. Last week: 0-2-0
 
5Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 4
Speaking of letdowns, looks like the Habs are having one, too. They looked bad in a 5-1 loss to Toronto on Saturday as the Leafs chased Carey Price from the net. Then Philly skated circles around them in a 7-3 setback on Monday night. Toronto has won three of four from the Habs so far, outscoring them 15-7. But Montreal did outshoot Toronto 37-28. The Habs are still getting chances and moving the puck. They'll be fine. I'm not worried. Much. But Price obviously needs to get over this slump pronto with the playoffs so near. Andrei Markov's eight power-play goals lead the league, and P.K. Subban has 34 points in 35 games. Should have held out for more money, kid. Last week: 1-3-0
 
6Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 6
They had a five-game winning streak snapped in Colorado Saturday, on a goal by Jan Hejda with 7.6 left in regulation. But they're safely in the playoffs and looking good to win the Northwest Division again. The biggest reason why things are looking up again is the return of Ryan Kesler, who had two goals in a bounce-back win at Nashville on Sunday, with Roberto Luongo making 36 saves. Kesler just takes so much pressure off the Sedin twins with his two-way presence, and there are still plenty of fans around Vancouver who think Luongo should be the starter come playoff time. Last week: 2-1-0
 
7Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 9
James Reimer probably ended the Devils' season on Monday night with his great 2-0 shutout performance. Reimer has won four of his last five starts while allowing only seven total goals. Think his improved play has anything to do with Toronto's flirtation with Roberto Luongo? I do. How about some pub for third-line center Jay McClement, too? He was a little-noticed free agent signing by Brian Burke over the summer, but Maple Leafs fans sure appreciate him now. He's helped Toronto's penalty kill immensely, with the Leafs in the top three of the league in that critical department, at better than 88 percent. Last season, Toronto was 28th (77.3 percent). Last week: 2-0-1
 
8Boston Bruins
Last Week: 7
Boston Bruins (26-11-4)
Forget about their up-and-down record of late. Patrice Bergeron will be back soon. Bergeron, who recently suffered his fourth concussion, made a quick recovery. He might have returned on Monday night against Ottawa, but the game was postponed because of the Boston Marathon tragedy. Bergeron, the reigning Selke Trophy winner, is their best fundamental offensive player. Heck, he's Boston's most valuable player, period. The Bruins' defense in the middle of the ice has been noticeably poorer since he went down, but that figures to change the minute he steps back on the ice. Last week: 1-2-0
 
9Washington Capitals
Last Week: 14
What a turnaround for the Caps. Stunning. Alex Ovechkin for the Hart Trophy. He's been simply outstanding in the second half, with at least one goal in 12 of his last 15 games! That deserved the exclamation point.) Braden Holtby for best second-half goalie of the year. (Well, OK, behind Sergei Bobrovsky). The Caps, who were truly awful during the first half, are running away with the Southeast Division title now, assured of home ice in the first round. Adam Oates for the Jack Adams Award! But the Caps will need Joel Ward back for the playoffs. The big, physical winger has missed the last three games with a knee injury. Last week: 3-0-0
 
10St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 8
St. Louis Blues (23-16-2)
They've lost two in a row after winning six straight, but with goalie Brian Elliott getting hot again, this team is looking good going into the playoffs. Assuming the Blues nail down a berth, which still isn't guaranteed yet. The additions of Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold has solidified the back end and taken a lot of the pressure off No. 1 D-man Alex Pietrangelo. At minus-6 before their acquisitions, Pietrangelo was a plus-6 entering the weekend. "Solid, responsible, smart, patient," coach Ken Hitchcock said of Bouwmeester and Leopold to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Smart and patient would be the key, and that allows us to be better in our own zone. Their efficient play has allowed us to get better. (Bouwmeester) gets a lot of the name recognition, but Leopold has added a ton to us. We had a tendency to shovel the puck and make it someone else's problem under pressure. We don't do that anymore." Last week: 2-2-0
 
11San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 11
San Jose Sharks (22-13-7)
I've got to admit that I counted these guys out a few weeks ago, when they seemed just too stale and GM Doug Wilson seemed to be in selloff mode. That just goes to prove once again that I've got no clue trying to forecast what's going to happen in this good old game of hockey. I just can never seem to figure these guys out. Too bad for the Sharks that Detroit is moving to the Eastern Conference next season. Thursday's shootout win over the Red Wings made San Jose 8-1-1 in its last 10 against them, not including two straight playoff series victories. Brent Burns, normally a defenseman, has been playing right wing with good results. He's got 15 points in 23 games this season. You still have to wonder, though, how the Sharks can make a deep playoff run, but the fact that they'll be in the postseason again is a tribute to Team Teal's resilience. Last week: 2-2-0
 
12New York Rangers
Last Week: 15
It's been a painfully inconsistent season for the Blueshirts, but they seem to be making a good push at the right time. Their 1-0 overtime win over the Islanders in Long Island on Saturday night was a great two points, and they entered Tuesday in seventh place in the East, two points up over ninth-place Winnipeg -- but with a critical game in hand. Henrik Lundqvist is hot again with the playoffs near -- good news for coach John Tortorella. "He's been on top of his game," Torts told reporters after practice Monday. A glance at the numbers proves it: King Henry's saves percentage of .928 ranks fourth in the league, and his 2.06 GAA is seventh. Last week: 2-0-0
 
13New York Islanders
Last Week: 13
A confession: I'm a big Islanders homer these days. I want to see these guys make the playoffs. I absolutely despised the Isles as a teenager who loved the Bruins in the '80s, but since I started covering the league in 1995, they've been objects of pure pity. Now here they are on the precipice of the playoffs. Can they hold on and make it? Or will the season end up being just another broken heart for the long-suffering partisans of Uniondale? I'll be fascinated to find out, but in the meantime: Go you Isles! Last week: 2-0-1
 
14Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 10
Minnesota Wild (23-16-3)
This team isn't playing too well right now, but the playoffs seem assured after a 4-3 win in Calgary Monday night. But it still seems clear that the Wild haven't progressed to the next level yet, the one where a long playoff run is a sure bet and not a long shot. They're still too inconsistent. Add in their OT/SO losses and this team's real record is 23-19. They can look great at times, but the big problem is a lack of depth on defense. And for all that talent up front, they can still go into mysterious scoring droughts. Witness their consecutive shutout losses last week to Chicago and St. Louis. Frankly, I think these guys have been a bit of a disappointment this season. But they'll probably get into the playoffs. And once you're in, anything can happen. Witness the L.A. Kings of 2012. Last week: 1-2-1
 
15Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 12
Ottawa Senators (21-14-6)
The playoffs still look like a good bet, and that would be a tremendous stick tap to all involved who wear that funny looking logo of a man wearing a strange-looking helmet. But, I don't know, it just seems like the injuries are finally catching up with the Sens a bit. They're 5-5 in their last 10 games, and are not all that great on the road (8-11-3). Erik Karlsson (severed Achilles) is skating again, but can he really return for the playoffs? It doesn't seem all that promising. Coach Paul MacLean said the reigning Norris Trophy winner still isn't close to actually practicing with the team. I hope he makes it back in time, but I'd be surprised. Karlsson suffered a 70-percent laceration of an Achilles tendon. Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa returned nearly four months after a 90-percent tear once, but admitted that it took nearly a year before he actually felt pain-free. The Sens need to be really careful about this. Rushing Karlsson back before he's ready won't serve anybody's best interests in Ottawa. Last week: 2-1-0
 
16Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 16
The Wings entered Tuesday tied with Columbus in points, but with a critical game in hand. And with Jimmy Howard playing very well in net right now, you have to give the edge to these Original Sixers. Howard posted a 3-0 shutout at Nashville on Saturday, which was huge for the Winged Wheel's postseason chances. But if the Wings finish eighth and have to face No. 1 Chicago, the odds don't look good. Detroit is 0-1-3 against the Hawks so far, including a 7-1 loss. Last week: 1-0-2
 
17Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 24
The inspiring Jackets did it again on Monday night, pulling out a 4-3 OT win in Colorado, coming back from 3-2 down with 2:02 left in regulation. Here's the problem: four more consecutive road games remain, at Anaheim, L.A., San Jose and Dallas. It's still going to take something of a minor miracle for the Jackets to make the playoffs, but if anybody can perform one, Sergei Bobrovsky looks to be a worthy candidate. The goaltender was the NHL's First Star of last week, and is on a lot of voters' lists right now for the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. Eat your heart out, Philadelphia. Last week: 4-0-0
 
18Dallas Stars
Last Week: 18
Dallas Stars (21-18-3)
Dallas came back from 2-0 down to tie up Chicago at the United Center on Monday night. But just when you wanted to get excited about the Stars and their playoff chances, their night ended in a 5-2 loss. Still, Dallas is only two points back of eighth-place Detroit, with each team having six games left. Their season-ending game, April 27 in Dallas, looms large. And Dallas has shown itself to be just unpredictable enough to leave pundits nervous about what will happen. Jamie Benn broke a seven-game scoring drought with the Stars' two goals in Chicago. He needs to stay hot down the stretch for this team to have any hope of the postseason. Last week: 3-1-0
 
19Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 21
Winnipeg Jets (21-19-2)
The Jets have won three straight, so a playoff berth is are still there for the taking. And their next three games are at home, against Tampa Bay, Carolina and the Islanders. So the could open. Thing is: Winnipeg is only 11-9-0 at home this season, a surprising mark, given the fervor of the blue-clad partisans who fill the MTS Centre night after night. The Jets just are not a very exciting team, but they are good enough to make the final two weeks interesting. Last week: 2-0-0
 
20Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 17
Phoenix Coyotes (18-17-7)
Their run of three straight years to the playoffs appears over. A 4-0 home loss to San Jose on Monday night probably did them in. The Coyotes never seemed to have goalie Mike Smith fully healthy much of the year, and goal-scoring remained a problem. They will have to win out, probably, to make the postseason, but there is some good, young talent on this team, starting with speedster Mikkel Boedker, and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. However, the Yotes need more up front in order to get back to being a playoff team. Last week: 1-1-1
 
21Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 19
Buffalo Sabres (18-19-6)
Once again, they are making a late run at the playoffs, burying the Flyers' and Lightning' hopes in the process, but it's probably too late even if the Sabres are 8-4-2 in their last 14 games and in 10th place in the East. Their special teams remain not so special and in the bottom of the league in both the power play and the penalty-kill. According to sportsclubstats.com, the Sabres began the week with a 29.5 percent chance of making the postseason if they win their final five games. Failing to grab every available point shrinks their chances to under 10 percent. Are willing to bet on a team that that hasn't won more than three games in a row this season? Last week: 2-2-0
 
22Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 22
Ilya Bryzgalov stood up and chastised reporters for daring to write that maybe he has a nap problem. This, after video showed him clearly shutting his eyes for several seconds on the bench while Steve Mason came over for a water break during a game last week. Look, I've always liked Breezer's carefree attitude, and the fact that he's been a great quote. We like that in the media. But don't play dumb like that and expect not to be called on it. I don't think the Flyers should or will buy him out after the season. You can't just let a guy like Bryzgalov go for nothing. Let him maybe retire first. But it's clear that it isn't working out for him in Philly any more than it worked for numerous other goalies that the Flyers have tried. His saves percentage is .897 and his apologists' out there can't get away from that number, nor the fact that Philly will miss the playoffs. Last week: 1-3-0
 
23New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 20
They are 0-6-4 in the last 10, and the playoffs are all but of out reach. What happened to last season's Stanley Cup finalist? Martin Brodeur was hurt part of the year, for one thing, and his play hasn't quite been up to his standards when he is in the lineup. But the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk to a shoulder injury was the real killer in the second half as the Devils just didn't have enough offensive firepower to compensate until he returned and their defense has just been too porous to make what goals team manages score stand up. Better luck next year. Last week: 0-3-0
 
24Nashville Predators
Last Week: 25
They've made the playoffs the last three years and in seven of the last eight, but they won't make it this season. They were officially eliminated on Monday night. Coach Barry Trotz blamed injuries for much of the team's woes, but let's face it: Ryan Suter's departure was the start of Nashville's decline. Shea Weber last week criticized his team's effort level, and Trotz has seemed a little too defensive when asked what went wrong. In other words, this wasn't the feel-good, small-market story of recent years in the Music City. The Preds have some big problems to deal with (little in the way of offense, only one stud defensive player) and you have to wonder if Trotz is feeling a little weary about the prospect of a rebuild. Last week: 0-4-0
 
25Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 27
The Bolts signed recently-acquired Ben Bishop to a two-year contract extension on Monday, a clear indication that he will be this team's No. 1 goaltender. Bishop has posted a solid .916 saves percentage since coming over from Ottawa. Give him a good summer of workouts and productive training camp and I see good things for him and the Bolts in 2013-14. But first he'll need some help, starting with everything that GM Steve Yzerman can do to improve Tampa Bay's leaky defense. Last week: 1-2-1
 
26Calgary Flames
Last Week: 29
Calgary Flames (16-22-4)
Bob Hartley's team hasn't quit down the stretch. There is no hope of making the playoffs, but that hasn't stopped the Flames from looking very good recently, including their 4-1 win in Edmonton on Saturday night. The may be getting too many points, in fact, if their unspoken goal is to have the best odds at winning the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery. But at least they are showing some pride. Joey MacDonald has played well in net in lieu of Miikka Kiprusoff, who is essentially taking the rest of the season off. Last week: 2-2-0
 
27Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 23
Edmonton Oilers (16-18-7)
Five games ago, their record was 16-13-7. Hope for the playoffs was in the air. Hope has now left the building. So has GM Steve Tambellini, who was released from his duties on Monday and replaced by former Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. Is this just an old boys' club? After all, former GM Kevin Lowe, now a hockey operations guy, is still around and he hired his old buddy MacTavish again. Lowe didn't seem to like some of the tough questions he fielded Monday at a press conference: "I'll say that there's one other guy in hockey today that is still working in the game that has won more Stanley Cups than me. So I think I know a little bit about winning, if there's ever a concern," he said. OK, time to prove it. Last week: 0-2-0
 
28Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 26
The 'Canes finally got a win over the weekend by beating the Bruins, but the damage was done long ago. It's interesting that a number of people have pointed out that the wheels came off this team's playoff express shortly after the enigmatic Alex Semin was signed to a five-year contract extension. (He has yet to score a goal this month and has potted all of two since March 16.) But injuries up and down the roster plus a mistake-prone defense are what really proved fatal. Still, it's going to be interesting to see what Semin does for Carolina next season. Will the 'Canes get their money's worth? Last week: 1-2-0
 
29Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 30
Since J.S. Giguere lashed out at his teammates' attitude and work ethic last week, the Avs are 2-0-2. And of course, much of the fan base hates this, as they were starting to get serious visions of Seth Jones in their craniums. Questions still surround the future employment of coach Joe Sacco and GM Greg Sherman, but so far there has been little indication that either will be on their way out. On a bright now, winger P.A. Parenteau (16 goals, 40 points) has proven to be one of the year's best free-agent acquisitions. Bet his former team -- the Islanders -- would love to have him again for the playoff push. Last week: 2-0-2
 
30Florida Panthers
Last Week: 28
Just get this season over already. These Cats are truly awful, with their 99 goals-for and league-worst 142 goals-against. "We expected more out of ourselves," said forward Tomas Fleischmann, who leads the Panthers with 28 points. "What we did this year, it wasn't even close to the way we wanted to play." Indeed. Last week: 0-2-0
MORE:
HACKEL: Who most deserves the Hart Trophy?

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