Posted: Tue April 23, 2013 12:14PM; Updated: Tue April 23, 2013 6:00PM
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater>INSIDE THE NHL

Plenty of drama in final regular season Power Rankings

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Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews
Can Ryan Kesler stay healthy for the playoffs? Will the Presidents' Trophy curse Jon Toews' Hawks?
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

And down the stretch they come, the final yards of this NHL campaign that we will charitably call The Great 48.

Can Columbus hold on to the eighth spot in the West? Can the Blue Jackets really beat out Detroit and end the Red Wings' 21-year playoff streak? Can Winnipeg overcome the odds and slip past either Washington, the New York Rangers or Ottawa for the final spot in the East?

We'll have all the answers come Sunday, when the regular season ends. Meanwhile, there isn't much change at the top, with the Chicago Blackhawks hanging on to the first position in these here rankings, despite a loss on Monday night at Vancouver. Right on their heels remain the Pittsburgh Penguins, who just might get some guy named Crosby back by next week, if not sooner.

The real fun, in other words, is just about to start. So, this will be our final regular season ranking of all 30 teams. Next week we'll rank the playoff squads, but I'll let you know in what order the bottom 14 finished.

On to the list...

NHL Power Rankings
1Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
Are they really ready? It seems like it, although a loss at Vancouver tempered this entry some. But Chicago has the requisite hunger intangible on its side, of being a very talented team with its core players intact that hasn't won in three years. The Hawks have been excellent all year, save for a minor dip last month. They've shown they can still win without a top player or two, at least in the short term. And they seem reasonably healthy as the playoffs near. Of course, all of that can vanish in a saint's whisper. If the playoffs started Monday, Chicago would be going against Columbus, and the hottest goalie in the league. But Sergei Bobrovsky would have to get even hotter to upset the Hawks, who have the President's Trophy virtually locked up. And what of any curse that comes with it? "For teams that start hot, maybe sometimes they fall off a little bit," Patrick Kane told reporters. "That's one of the things we don't want to do here; [we want to] make sure we keep playing the same way." Last week: 1-1-1
 
2Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 2
Great win for the Pens on Saturday in Boston, in one of those "This could be the conference finals preview" kind of games in an emotional building. Jarome Iginla seems to be enjoying playing meaningful hockey in April again, scoring a goal and getting in a fight with Boston's Nathan Horton. Only an assist was missing for the Gordie Howe Hat Trick. The win clinched the top spot in the East, with four games to go. Time for a brief toast among the boys. "For whatever reason, we just kept pushing through, kept finding ways to win," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's a little unique, I guess. The 82-game season, it seemed like the last couple of years it always came down to the last day. It's definitely a little bit different for us." Last week: 3-0-0
 
3Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 3
They almost blew a home game on Sunday night against Dallas, but a third-period goal by Dustin Brown tied it 3-3, and Jeff Carter won it in OT. The goal was Carter's 25th, putting him third in the league. The Kings' final game of the regular season, at home against San Jose on Saturday, looms large. It could decide who gets home ice in the first round, with fourth-place L.A. leading fifth-place San Jose by two points as of Monday, with three games left for each team. Does the Kings' 8-10-4 road record concern me entering the playoffs? A little, yeah. They definitely seem a lot more comfortable in front of the Staples Center partisans than wearing the whites of the road (when will that dumb rule be changed back again? Road teams should wear DARK colors). But this is a team that loves a big game, no matter where it's played. Last week: 2-0-1
 
4Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 4
Anaheim Ducks (29-11-6)
They continue to kind of shuffle along to the end of the season, their division long-since wrapped up. There's no question some boredom set in and their play suffered at times. It's always a worrisome thing, though. The old "turn the switch" mentality keeps coaches such as Bruce Boudreau up at all hours worrying about its dangerous pitfalls. You can't manufacture hunger, and the Ducks haven't looked hungry for a while. But probably when their roaring, towel-waving home crowd greets them just prior to Game 1 against a still-to-be-determined opponent, all that latent boredom will vanish in a nanosecond. Last week: 2-1-1
 
5Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 6
They clinched their fifth Northwest Division title and looked great in a win over Chicago on Monday. It wasn't an easy year for Vancouver in many ways, with Exhibit A being Roberto Luongo's pity party presser at the trade deadline. But Luongo remains in the fold and apparently ready to help his team any way he can. Meanwhile, the Sedin twins are looking good and Ryan Kesler has played a few games in a row now without getting injured. It appears we'll finally get to see what Cory Schneider is really made of as a starting goalie in the playoffs. It will be one of the Western Conference's more intriguing subplots. He looked real good against the Blackhawks on Monday, but we'll see what happens when the games really start to count. Last week: 2-1-1
 
6Washington Capitals
Last Week: 9
They've won nine of their last 10, and their best player is their best player again. Why shouldn't they be ranked this high? Caps fans survived a scare when Nicklas Backstrom had to leave a game after taking a hard shot to the arm, but coach Adam Oates said "he's fine," which is all the more reason to be feeling good about the Caps as the playoffs near. No, they still don't have a playoff spot -- or a division title -- guaranteed yet. The Caps play the Jets on Tuesday night, and it ain't over yet. It's very possible I have these guys ranked too high, but I'll jump on the bandwagon for now. Last week: 2-0-0
 
7Boston Bruins
Last Week: 8
Boston Bruins (27-12-5)
Entering Tuesday, the Bs were tied with Montreal for the division lead at 59 points. But Boston has that crucial game in hand. Of course, old-time hockey guys like to say, "It only helps to have a game in hand if you win it." But with two-way ace center Patrice Bergeron back in the lineup, I like Boston's chances to eke out the title and get that home-ice advantage for Round 1. The Bruins' next two games are against non-playoff teams (Philadelphia and Tampa Bay) while Montreal's final three are all on the road, at New Jersey, Winnipeg and Toronto. Advantage Bs. After being called out by coach Claude Julien for his contribution to Saturday's 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh ("You're not going to point a finger, but your goaltender's got to make some saves, too, at the right time"), Tuukka Rask responded with a shutout of the Panthers. Granted, that maybe shouldn't count because it was the Panthers, but it was still a good sign. Last week: 1-1-1
 
8Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 7
Let there be joy in Hogtown. After James Reimer's stunning 49-save performance in a 4-1 win over Ottawa on Saturday, the Maple Leafs qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2004. "We're trying to earn respect back for our group and that to me is the most important thing," coach Randy "Kitty" Carlyle told reporters. "For us to qualify now is a feather in the players' cap for all the work that they've put in." One of the best signs for the postseason, along with Reimer's play of late: Phil Kessel has 14 points (six goals) in his last eight games. Anytime you have a hot scorer -- along with the hot goalie -- you have a chance in the playoffs. Last week: 1-2-0
 
9New York Islanders
Last Week: 13
They're not in yet, and the final three games are on the road. And until proven wrong, they are still the Islanders. Sorry, but the potential is still there for a heartbreak finish. These are still the Islanders. But come this weekend, I say the following will happen: there will be joy in Uniondale. As SI.com colleague Stu Hackel noted in a fine piece on the Isles, this hockey club has yet to lose in April, picking up 18 of a possible 20 points. And John Tavares deserves consideration for the Hart Trophy (but Sidney Crosby will still win it, it says here). New York's best chance at cinching a spot probably will come Tuesday night in Carolina, with the final two games in Philly and Buffalo. Then again, none of those three teams will make the playoffs. The Isles can't blow it now, can they? Last week: 3-0-0
 
10San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 11
San Jose Sharks (24-14-7)
I might have these guys ranked too low. Seriously, they could be a big surprise in the playoffs. Then again, the Sharks have broken more hearts than David Cassidy (1970s-era David Cassidy, that is). Scouts have told me and other Dickie Dunn puck scribes: they're a lot faster team than they were pre-deadline. Kudos to GM Doug Wilson for that, along with the fact that the Sharks have plenty of high draft picks coming thanks to his deadline deals. You are pre-conditioned to think they'll find a way to lose in the playoffs, because that's what the Sharks usually do. But I like this team again for some reason. Last week: 2-1-0
 
11New York Rangers
Last Week: 12
They are quietly creeping right back in there, a team I wouldn't want to face in the first round. Props to coach John "None of your business" Tortorella for righting what had been a seemingly sinking ship not too long ago. His team is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games. Of course, the Blueshirts are not in the playoffs officially yet, either. But with a one-point lead on ninth-place Winnipeg and a crucial (but only if you win it) game in hand over the Jets, house odds favor New York especially because their final three games are against Florida, Carolina and the Devils. Mark them down for a first-round series, with Henrik Lundqvist entering as a certified hot goalie. Last week: 3-1-0
 
12St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 10
St. Louis Blues (26-17-2)
After a sloppy loss at last-place Colorado on Sunday, coach Ken Hitchcock's team was still one point away from clinching a playoff spot. It'll get another chance against the Avs on Tuesday at home, where good things usually happen for his team. Despite Brian Elliott's hot play of late -- entering the Avs game that is, in which he was pulled in the second period -- the goaltending is still something of a worry. You worry about the Blues' strength up the middle, too. Is Vladimir Sobotka really a No. 2 center? He is right now on the depth chart, but the numbers (18 points in 45 games) say otherwise. Something's still not quite right with this team. Last week: 3-1-0
 
13Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 17
In Bob They Trust. With just a one-point lead on Detroit, and with the Wings having a crucial (but only if you win it) game in hand, the Jackets are everyone's sentimental favorite to get into the playoffs. But can goalie Sergei Bobrovsky win these last two games while Detroit fails to get five out of six points? We'll find out. Columbus has a game in Dallas and a home finale against Nashville still to go, and will probably need to get at least three of the four points. If anyone can perform a minor miracle, it's Bobrovsky, who just might win the Vezina Trophy. Still, you wish they had that one extra game to play. Last week: 2-1-0
 
14Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 5
What's up with Carey Price? His goals-against average, for one thing. This is definitely not good as the playoffs beckon. Price has one win in his last six starts, with five or more goals allowed in two of them. If Montreal plays Toronto in the first round, which would have been the case had the season ended on Monday, he would go in with a 1-3-0 record, 4.12 GAA and .840 saves percentage against the Leafs this season. Some Habs fans even believe that backup Peter Budaj should be the starter in the playoffs. If Price keeps playing like this, it might happen. A little offense from center Tomas Plekanec (no goals in his last 10 games, one in the last 16) wouldn't hurt the cause, either. This team is going to be hitting the golf course soon if it doesn't wake up. Last week: 1-2-0
 
15Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 16
They did what they had to do, which was beat Phoenix, 4-0, on Monday night with Jimmy Howard looking great. So, the chance to make the playoffs for a 22nd straight season still is very much there, with just a one-point deficit to make up on Columbus with a, OK I'll stop now, crucial game in hand. These guys still look awfully stale at times, though. The clock really is ticking down on the good times with this tremendous organization. At least for the time being. The Wings used to score at will, but of the top nine teams in the West, Detroit's 113 goals rank last. Last week: 1-1-1
 
16Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 14
Minnesota Wild (24-18-3)
These guys could still find a way to miss the playoffs. That hardly seemed possible a couple of weeks ago, but they're just 3-6-1 in their last 10 and losers of two in a row. The goal scoring has dried up, and they have allowed more goals (119) than they've scored (116). On Monday, they reassigned rookies Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker to the minors in favor of veterans Jake Dowell and Stephane Veilleux. Coach Mike Yeo needs more experience and grit, or so it appears, with the final three games on tap. "When you look at those guys, it's a bit of different identity to the players," Yeo told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "A little bit harder, and probably the veteran side of it is important this time of year, too, and that had a lot to do with it." Last week: 1-2-0
 
17Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 19
Winnipeg Jets (24-19-3)
What a save by goalie Ondrej Pavelec on Thomas Vanek at the end of Winnipeg's 2-1 win over the Sabres on Monday, a gloved grab from about two feet out. So it pretty much all comes down to Tuesday's game in Washington. They are one point behind not only the Rangers and Senators for the final two playoff spots in the East, but also only one behind Washington for the division title. "It's the biggest game of our season," forward Evander Kane said. Copy that. But the Jets will be on the road, and they also lost valuable veteran Kyle Wellwood to a hand injury on Monday. He's the kind of solid, smart player that any team needs in these critical games. Winnipeg only has two games left, too, while the Rangers, Senators and Caps all have three. Last week: 3-0-1
 
18Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 15
Ottawa Senators (23-16-6)
These guys could still blow ii. The odds do favor them making the postseason, which would still be a great accomplishment for a team with so many injuries. And there seems to be real hope that Norris Trophy-winner Erik Karlsson could be back even before the playoffs. He's been practicing lately. The Sens lost a chance at gaining satisfaction over Matt Cooke and the Penguins with a loss at home on Monday. Cooke bailed out of a chance to fight Chris Neil at the start of the game, which was probably a smart decision on the smaller Cooke's part. He even got an assist on Tyler Kennedy's insurance goal at the end. "We have to get back to basics," goalie Craig Anderson said. Last week: 2-2-0
 
19Dallas Stars
Last Week: 18
Dallas Stars (22-19-4)
There is still a pulse, but the rosary beads are twirling in their hands. Just not quite enough of everything for the Stars, who nonetheless have battled tougher than most people (including me) thought they would. Dallas has to win out and hope that Columbus and Detroit lose their remaining games. The good news for the Stars: they still play the Blue Jackets and Red Wings, with each game at the American Airlines Center. Miracles can happen. Last week: 1-1-1
 
20Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 22
It'll be strange not seeing them in the playoffs, and it'll be a little less fun without all that orange from thousands of t-shirts in the background. But the Flyers just didn't get enough from top scorers such as Daniel Briere (15 points in 31 games so far) and Scott Hartnell (10 in 29). Wayne Simmonds had a fine season, though, and a hat trick, four-point night against Carolina on Saturday. This is a team with cap problems; according to the estimable Capgeek.com, the Flyers already are nearly $7 million over the $64.3 million benchmark for 2013-14. Last week: 2-1-0
 
21Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 20
Phoenix Coyotes (19-18-8)
No playoffs this time for the Desert Dogs. Their hopes were dashed on Monday night by a weak 4-0 loss at Detroit. That typified their play on the road (6-10-7) too much this year. The defense and goaltending just weren't there as much as they were recent years for Dave Tippett's team. The Yotes need a top-six center in a big way. But it's still a team with hope for the future. We'll see if it remains in Glendale. Last week: 1-1-1
 
22Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 21
Buffalo Sabres (19-21-6)
They had a chance to get back to the kinda-sorta .500 mark on Monday, but in all-too-typical fashion, they came up just a bit short. The Sabres have nearly $49 million in payroll committed to 16 players for next season, with the NHL's cap falling from $70.2 million to $64.3 million. A guy like Ville Leino (due $4.5 million for each of the next FOUR years) could be an amnesty buyout candidate. Last week: 1-2-0
 
23New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 23
Living legend goalie Martin Brodeur said his team just "quit" in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Sunday. Strong stuff, indeed, from the proud future Hall of Famer. New Jersey's play in the second half certainly didn't inspire many kind words. Yeah, they lost top scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, and Brodeur was hurt for a while. But still, the Devils had enough talent to have been better than this. "I thought our coaching staff worked diligently (and) prepared this team," coach Peter DeBoer told reporters. "I think that's been common theme even when you talk to the players. So, I thought our coaches emptied the tank, so to speak. Any time you don't have a successful year, the entire organization gets analyzed, including myself. I'm sure that's a process Lou (Lamoriello) will go through." Last week: 2-1-0
 
24Calgary Flames
Last Week: 26
Calgary Flames (19-22-4)
What's gotten into Bob Hartley's boys? They are looking very...good. They went into Minnesota and easily downed the Wild, putting that high-priced team's playoff chances in peril. Goalie Joey MacDonald, outstanding of late, was rewarded with a one-year, $925,000 contract extension last week. The likable journeyman has won four of his last five starts. As always though: this team could use a good No. 1 center. Last week: 3-0-0
 
25Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 29
Ever since Jean-Sebastien Giguere blasted his teammates with his "Quite frankly, I don't care about your Vegas trip right now" broadside, the Avs have lost only once in regulation (3-1-2). This was a team that always had the talent, but a slide that started around the midway point doomed its playoff chances. Now, the Avs are playing like they don't want to the season to end. But it will, in three more games. The question in Denver: will coach Joe Sacco be brought back for a fifth year, despite missing the playoffs in three of his first four? We'll know soon. Last week: 1-1-0
 
26Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 27
Edmonton Oilers (17-21-7)
Looks like the Oilers are making another late push for a better chance at the No. 1 pick. Getting the last four in a row wasn't enough to keep them out of the draft lottery again, it's now clear. This could be it for 37-year-old warrior Ryan Smyth, who scored only two goals. He has a year left on his contract, but speculation in Edmonton is that he could be either bought out or traded. Smyth seems to think he can still play. "It's not good when you can remember the games you scored in," he told the Edmonton Journal. "One was my birthday, the other was shorthanded. I'm not going to sugar-coat it. Two goals. I'm better than that. But I still think I can keep up. There's games where I feel I have lots left in the tank." Last week: 1-3-0
 
27Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 28
Cam Ward's importance to this franchise was writ large all right, after his season-ending knee injury. The 'Canes went from contender to pretender in a hurry. But it's not all about Ward. This will be their sixth miss of the playoffs in their last seven seasons since winning the Stanley Cup. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, there have been six other teams with a record that poor over that span, and all of them changed general managers at least once, five of them twice. Yet, GM Jim Rutherford seems as comfortably ensconced in his position as ever. Last week: 1-2-1
 
28Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 25
Well, at least we know it wasn't all Guy Boucher's fault. After a brief good spell under Jon Cooper, Boucher's replacement behind the bench, the Bolts are back to being terrible again. They are 2-7-1 in their last 10 and they even lost at home to Carolina over the weekend. Goalie Ben Bishop, signed to a two-year contract extension, has allowed three or more goals in six of his last seven starts. Last week: 0-2-1
 
29Nashville Predators
Last Week: 24
This will be the first season since 2002-03 that the Preds will finish under the .500 mark. This prompted the Nashville Tennessean to ask chairman and alternate governor Tom Cigarran whether he feels big changes should be in store: "It doesn't call for, in my view, a wholesale change and we're not going to clean house and start over," he said. "We have to get our players, who are really good players, healthy and playing again. We need to get some of our young kids to continue to develop." Last week: 0-0-1
 
30Florida Panthers
Last Week: 30
So who do you want, Panthers fans? Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin or Nathan MacKinnon? The Panthers pretty much have the 30th spot locked up, so they'll be guaranteed no worse than the second pick in the NHL draft, and the three aforementioned junior stars are considered locks to go in the top three. This team needs defense and goaltending the most, so Jones would seem to be the odds-on favorite to be tabbed, as he's considered the best defenseman in the draft pool. Last week: 0-4-0
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