As we approach the final weekend of the NHL’s regular season, we must recognize the dominance of the Chicago Blackhawks, who amazingly have lost just six games in 60 minutes.
The ’Hawks have two strong goaltenders in Corey Crawford and Ray Emery (each with a .923 save percentage heading into Wednesday night’s action), a powerful rookie phenom in Brandon Saad (25 points), and a core forward group whose depth is only rivaled by Pittsburgh’s.
The Presidents’ Trophy winners – equally deadly at home or on the road — will enter the postseason as hot as they began the season. The Blackhawks have only lost once in regulation all April and Duncan Keith lost his composure (or, at least, his manners) afterward.
The 2013 ’Hawks are not accustomed to losing and until someone can beat them four of seven, they’ll remain No. 1.
Here are the latest Sportsnet.ca Power Rankings:
The Blackhawks have stumbled both on the ice (back-to-back losses to the Coyotes and Canucks) and off (Duncan Keith made some snippy comments), but home-ice advantage all May/June long should ease their worries.
Jarome Iginla has sold his Calgary home and is playing some happy hockey. Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) is back, but the Penguins must be completely healthy (Crosby, Neal) if they are to cruise all the way to the finals like most fans believe.
The hottest team in hockey has a 30-goal scorer in a 48-game season and has won 10 of its last 11. Alex Ovechkin set an NHL record for goals in April (13), and the month isn’t even over. More important: When their season was on the line against the Jets this week, they delivered.
The Ducks have the best power play in the West (21.1%), and back-to-back victories this week against a finished Oilers club could help build the confidence Coach Boudreau wants his charges to have as they enter the playoffs against a very beatable seventh seed.
The Canucks connected with consecutive W’s over Chicago and Detroit. They’ve locked up the Northwest again, but injuries to Kevin Bieksa and now Cory Schneider (both day-to-day) could prove costly if those players aren’t 100 per cent in a week.
While everyone talks about the Red Wings when it comes to consistently making the playoffs (and rightfully so), the Sharks, who have won four of six and made the cut for the ninth straight season, will hold the longest active streak if the Wings can’t finish strong.
It’s as if neither the Bruins nor the Canadiens want to seize that Northeast crown. Boston, arguably everyone’s second-favourite team now, have dropped five of six – the coldest they’ve been all season.
They may never learn how to score in bunches, but tight-checking hockey will soon be in fashion. Brian Elliott has earned the crease for the playoffs, and the Blues are entering the postseason on a high: 10-3-0 in April.
The Kings know how to win tight games, but the fact they haven’t won a game by more than a single goal in 20 days should be a concern. Not dominating champs by any means. Don’t worry about Dustin Brown, though, as he’ll be well-rested for Game 1.
Playing with house money, the Islanders have not played a game in April in which they did not earn a point. Overshadowed by the Leafs, this exciting team to watch enters the playoffs for the first time in six years.
The Leafs ended the league’s longest playoff drought and got to spend some off days in Florida golfing and deep-sea fishing and watching Martin St. Louis score goals. They still have something worth playing for, however: home ice.
The Habs have dropped two in a row and six of 10. Time is running out, but they’d be wise to get their game in shape before the playoffs begin to maintain home-ice advantage and draw a weaker opponent. The division is still within reach.
Brad Richards picked up his game at the right time, earning one of the NHL’s three stars of the week. The suddenly scoring Blueshirts have all but locked up a playoff spot and avoided some serious criticism.
One of the best stories of this shortened season is now giving us must-see TV in late April. Fighting Minnesota and Detroit for one of the West’s final two spit, the Jackets have won six of seven.
Enduring another mini-skid, the Senators could have some incredible news if Erik Karlsson – the team’s most important player when healthy – returns to the lineup.
Staring history in the face, the Red Wings have answered the must-win bell, earning points in their last three contests, including a shutout of the Coyotes and a slashing of the Kings. Stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk want that eighth seed bad.
Jason Pominville, whose face was on the business end of a Dustin Brown elbow, better heal fast. Without Dany Heatley, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu need some help up front as the Wild hope to hold on to their playoff spot.
Too little too late for the Winnipeg Jets, who played some inspired hockey down the stretch and benefitted from Ondrej Pavelec’s highlight-reel magic. But don’t ask Claude Noel how devastating Tuesday’s loss to the Capitals was.
Competitive to the bitter end, the Sabres put up a winning record in April and Thomas Vanek earned praise from none other than the rival Bruins for suggesting both teams salute the Boston fans following the first TD Garden game after the Marathon bombings.
When they so desperately needed to swell the sum in the left column, the Stars hit the road for a tough fight card and dropped one-goal games to the Blues, Kings and Sharks. Another bubble year popped.
Refusing to go into tank mode, the banged-up Flyers have won four of their last five games and still have a shot at affecting the Isles’ and Sens’ playoff seeding.
It’s that time of year again when Steven Stamkos tells reporters he doesn’t care about individual awards and that he’d rather be in the playoffs. Two goals behind Ovechkin, Stamkos has a shot at the Rocket Richard (29 goals) and the Art Ross (56 points). Teammate Martin St. Louis could become the oldest Art Ross winner ever; he has a league-leading 58 points to a stagnant Crosby’s 56.
The Coyotes have suffered a pair of 4-0 defeats in the last 10 days (to the Wings and Sharks) and simply aren’t the team they were 360 days ago. Plus, goaltender Mike Smith is set to become an unrestricted free agent any minute now.
The Flames might be out of the picture, but they still have a chance to affect the playoff picture if they can upset the Wild or Blues on the road. Tall order.
Since the end of the 1989-90 season, the always-relevant Devils had played only four meaningless games (standings-wise). This week they saw their fifth.
Another year, another Oilers shot at landing the No. 1 ball in the Entry Draft lottery. Slow death for Seth?
The Canes linked together two wins for the first time since early March. More interesting: They called up a third Staal, other brother Jared, who should play on Jordan’s line Tuesday.
It has been more than a month and a half since the Avalanche won two games in a row. Destined to finish last in the West.
The Flames needed to trade away their franchise players and rest their two highest scorers for the Predators to beat them – by a goal – and end their eight-game losing streak.
Losers of six of their last seven, the Panthers will have the most balls bouncing in Monday’s NHL Entry Draft lottery.