Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: Playoff spots up for grabs


Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: Playoff spots up for grabs

There’s less than two weeks left in the NHL regular season and with only a handful of games remaining, every point means so very much. In the Eastern Conference, only the second wild-card spot really still seems to be up for grabs and only the Ottawa Senators (three points behind) are close enough to catch the Bruins for that last playoff spot.

On the other end of the spectrum in the West, the Los Angeles Kings are teetering on the edge of not qualifying for the playoffs and sit two points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild-card spot. Kings players have logged a lot of minutes over the past few years, just like the Bruins in the East, but Jets D-man Dustin Byfuglien is also facing a lengthy suspension that could derail the Jets’ chances.

It should be instructive to see if LA has got anything left in the tank for a late-season rally into the postseason.

Without further ado, here are this week’s power rankings:

1. Anaheim Ducks (50-22-7, rank last week: 4) – The Ducks have won four in a row and they lead the NHL with 107 points. It’s another very impressive regular season for them as they wrap up their third Pacific Division title.

2. New York Rangers (48-21-7, LW: 1) - A big victory over Winnipeg got the Rangers back in the winning ways, and they have King Henrik back in the fold as well. Those guys are setting up for a pretty good run.

3. Nashville Predators (47-22-9, LW: 7) – Some impressive wins by the Predators over the Canadiens and Lightning as they head toward the playoffs on a good note.

4. Montreal Canadiens (47-22-8, LW: 2) – It’s amazing that they just can’t beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s kind of like how they just can’t lose to the Bruins.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (47-24-7, LW: 3) – The Bolts probably should be ahead of the Habs given their thorough domination of them, but they’ll just have to settle for the perfect 5-0-0 record against them this season.

6. Chicago Blackhawks (46-24-6, LW: 6) – Big wins over Winnipeg and Los Angeles and Patrick Kane has returned to practice. Things are looking up for Chicago.

7. Minnesota Wild (44-25-7, LW: 13) – The Wild are 26-6-2 since the middle of January and they’ve turned Devan Dubnyk into the second coming of [insert Minnesota goaltending great here].

8. St. Louis Blues (46-23-7, LW: 5) – The Blues have lost five of six and got spanked pretty badly by Columbus and Vancouver in back-to-back losses. They are not finishing up strong.

9. Vancouver Canucks (45-27-5, LW: 11) – Canucks started off a big road trip with an impressive win over the Blues, but their work isn’t done yet in what’s been a very promising season for them.

10. New York Islanders (45-27-5, LW: 9) – At 4-6-3, the month of March has brought the Isles crashing back to Earth with a thud.

11. Pittsburgh Penguins (42-24-11, LW: 8) – Tough blow losing Kris Letang to a serious concussion after he was tossed by Shane Doan. The Penguins can’t afford to lose any of their top end players given the real lack of depth on their top-heavy roster.

12. Calgary Flames (42-28-7, LW: 16) – The Flames have won two in a row at exactly the right time and still have a huge game potentially looming with the Kings next week. That will be a real test for a young, inexperienced Calgary bunch.

13. Detroit Red Wings (40-23-13, LW: 10) – Big shootout loss to the Sens where Wings were having a difficult time generating offense with no Pavel Datsyuk in the lineup. Detroit limping to the finish line.

14. Washington Capitals (42-25-10, LW: 14) – The Capitals have gone on a solid 6-2-0 run since shutting out the Bruins a couple of weeks ago.

15. Boston Bruins (39-25-13, LW: 18) – A three-game winning streak is the latest upswing for the roller-coaster Bruins. The kill-shot win over the Panthers on Tuesday night was an impressive show of killer instinct.

16. Winnipeg Jets (39-26-12, LW: 12) – Bad time for Dustin Byfuglien to lose his temper and get suspended, isn’t it?

17. Los Angeles Kings (37-25-14, LW: 17) – This Kings group has played a L-O-T of hockey over the last few years. They just might not have it in them this season, but don’t count them out until the math says they are done.

18. Ottawa Senators (38-26-12, LW: 15) – Who knew the Hamburglar could hurt his back carrying the Senators?

19. Florida Panthers (35-27-15, LW: 19) – The Panthers battled valiantly over the last few months, but one soft Roberto Luongo goal allowed was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

20. Dallas Stars (37-30-10, LW: 20) – Dallas now knows that flashy scoring isn’t enough.

21. San Jose Sharks (38-30-9, LW: 21) – Things will be getting real this summer when the Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time since trading for Jumbo Joe.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets (37-35-4, LW: 25) – The Blue Jackets have won seven in a row and whetted the fans’ appetite for next season when Columbus is again healthy.

23. Philadelphia Flyers (31-29-17, LW: 24) – Tough year for Ron Hextall, who should be looking to shake things up this winter. If only they could play the Penguins every single night.

24. Colorado Avalanche (35-30-12, LW: 22) – The Avs need to hang their head in shame after losing 4-1 to the Edmonton Oilers and then getting stomped by the Sharks. Wait until next year, Patrick.

25. New Jersey Devils (31-33-13, LW: 23) – The Devils have lost six in a row down the stretch and need some serious youth on next season's roster.

26. Toronto Maple Leafs (29-43-6, LW: 26) – Credit Tyler Bozak for not going down without a fight in his hat trick performance against Ottawa last weekend. But that’s about all I’ve got for this dysfunctional group.

27. Carolina Hurricanes (28-37-11, LW: 27) – The Hurricanes are a tough out even now, but they’ve also lost six of their last eight games headed into the final stretch.

28. Edmonton Oilers (23-41-13, LW: 28) – The Oilers lost six in a row to start March and had won three straight with Richard Bachman playing strong between the pipes prior to playing the victim to the streaking Ducks.

29. Arizona Coyotes (23-46-8, LW: 29) – Tank harder, Arizona...tank harder.

30. Buffalo Sabres (22-47-8, LW: 30) – The Sabres have won two in a row. It might be time for Tim Murray to order a few code reds, and get some AHL guys in the Buffalo lineup for these crucial final few games.

Sounds like some Bruins players suffering from Claude fatigue


Sounds like some Bruins players suffering from Claude fatigue

BRIGHTON, Mass – The resume for Claude Julien speaks for itself in terms of greatness in Boston, so he certainly will get a warm ovation from the TD Garden crowd in his first visit back to Boston since getting fired last February. Julien coached the Boston Bruins for 10 years, won a franchise record 419 games over that time span, made it to the Cup Finals twice and of course hoisted the Cup in 2011.

It won’t matter that he’s now the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens when Julien gets his video tribute, and basks a long ovation similar to the one he received when he was recognized for passing Art Ross on the B’s all-time wins list a couple of season ago. The warmth will be a little weird in the middle of a Bruins/Canadiens rivalry game, but it’s clear that Bruins fans appreciate the job done by Julien for such a long period of time.

The mutual respect was also clear when players like Patrice Bergeron spoke warmly of their coach ahead of last weekend’s showdown in Montreal, which the Bruins eventually pulled out in a shootout at the Bell Centre.

But it would seem the Bruins are starting to get a little tired of tossing verbal bouquets at the guy that’s now behind the Habs bench. It all started with Tuukka Rask’s postgame reaction on Saturday when asked if there was any extra emotion going up against his old coach for the first time.

“He was not playing a shift on the ice, so it doesn’t really matter. He was coaching, so it was nothing special,” said Rask, matter-of-factly.

So there wasn’t any added emotion for Rask going up against Julien’s new team for the first time?

“Nope,” said Rask.   

That line of questioning continued again after Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena with Julien coming back to the Garden for the first time.

“Well, I can tell you what’s going to happen,” said Rask. “We’re going to start the game, at some point there’s going to be a video montage, we’re going to tap our sticks and the crowd is going to clap their hands and give him a warm welcome. Then the game is going to continue.”

Does Rask expect either he or some of his longtime teammates will get emotional if they see Julien showing some emotion during his ovation?

“No,” said Rask.

Is it really that cut-and-dry, the Bruins goaltender was asked?  

“It’s just another game,” said Rask, who improved to 8-15-3 lifetime against the Montreal Canadiens after last weekend’s shootout win. “It’s probably special for him to come back and be on the other side, but for us it’s just another game.”

Similarly, Marchand was much more understated speaking about Julien on Tuesday after speaking enthusiastically last weekend about the many discussions player and coach had about “becoming a better a pro” early in his career. But the Bruins winger wasn’t about to get all warm and fuzzy when asked about any greeting that his former coach is expected to get while the legendary Bruins/Habs rivalry plays out on the ice.

“I’m not really looking forward to it, but I’m sure he is,” said Marchand, when asked about the fan reception from Bruins fans awaiting Julien on Wednesday night. “It doesn’t really have anything to do with me, but I’m sure he’s excited to come back. He’s deserved that video and I’m sure a lot of people will be excited to see him again. I’m sure it will be a memorable game.”

Marchand went on to say he "learned a lot" from Julien during their time together, and clearly still has a high level of respect for his former coach. 

 Maybe it’s the very nature of the Bruins/Habs rivalry, or maybe the Bruins players are suffering from a little Claude Julien question fatigue with the two teams playing three times in a span of eight days. Maybe we're even finally seeing some of the Bruins players that had tired of the longtime coach's methods by the end of his long-running tenure in Boston. 

But it sure sounds like some longtime Bruins players might be over it when it comes to the “Claude Bowl” aspect of the ongoing rivalry week between the two storied rivals.  


Morning Skate: Robust trade market for D-men


Morning Skate: Robust trade market for D-men

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while prepping for Claude Bowl II.

*It’s going to be a robust trade market for defensemen with names such as Jack Johnson, Dion Phaneuf and Oliver Ekman-Larsson highlighting the group that’s available. Paul Martin will be in that select company if he clears through waivers and perhaps Niklas Hjalmarsson will as well with many teams holding D-men they’re willing to part with.

*The Buffalo Sabres apparently want four assets in any deal for rental Evander Kane that includes a draft pick, a prospect and an NHL roster player, and it’s hard to believe anybody is going to do that for a perennial underachiever who's never even scored 60 points in a season before.

*A tough end to the Andrew Cogliano iron-man streak as he’s been suspended for a couple of games after an incident last weekend.

*Brent Burns is the envy of many blueliners around the league because of his hard, accurate shot, which isn’t scoring him as many goals this season

*Year-round Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland has been rewarded for being a member of the Golden Knights with a one-year contract extension.

*It sounds like the Philadelphia Flyers have got Shayne Gostisbehere thinking more about defense after some up-and-down moments last season in his sophomore effort.

*For something completely different: A profile on a UFC champion and a firefighter all at the same time. Sounds like an interesting dude.