Joe Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: Bruins are soaring
With a little over a month left in the regular season, the playoff picture is becoming clear. And it’s also clear Atlantic Division teams are going to get hosed. One of the best teams in the NHL -- either the Bruins or the Maple Leafs -- are on a collision course for a first-round matchup, so one of them will be out before the second round. And since the winner goes to a probable second-round meeting with Tampa Bay, that means two of the best three teams in the league will be eliminated before the semifinals.
Many will complain the format punishes divisions with a host of great teams, and that's true to a degree. But I’ve got to say I do enjoy the divisional setup, with teams creating rivalries with divisional opponents when they face them year after year in the playoffs. A repeat of last season’s Bruins-Leafs matchup should be an excellent series with some hate and strong emotion. That's when hockey is at its best.
Fans of Atlantic Division teams will grouse about the playoff format but for my money it's creating the excitement it’s supposed to. And that’s what really matters. Good teams are eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs every season and this year will be no different.
31. Ottawa Senators (23-38-6)
So now the Senators have fired Guy Boucher as well. Boy, that’s really going to turn things around for this woeful franchise.
30. Los Angeles Kings (24-34-8)
The Kings have lost 11 of their last 12 games with their only win coming against the lowly Blackhawks. Oof. As Charles Barkley would say, that’s “terrible.”
29. New Jersey Devils (25-33-9)
The Devils have lost four games in a row and are basically playing with an AHL roster right now given all the injuries they’ve sustained. It’s a far cry from last season’s fun ride.
28. Anaheim Ducks (26-32-9)
The Ducks have won a couple of games in a row and played spoiler to the Coyotes, snapping their winning streak. Small consolations, but they're something.
27. Detroit Red Wings (23-33-10)
The Red Wings have now lost eight in a row and are dropping like a stone in the Atlantic Division. One has to wonder if somebody (paging Steve Yzerman) is going to swoop in and rescue this franchise.
26. Vancouver Canucks (27-30-9)
The Canucks have lost three in a row, are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, and are slowly fading away in the Pacific Division. Add Brandon Sutter’s season-ending injury to the recent losses for the Canucks.
25. Chicago Blackhawks (27-30-9)
Chicago has lost four of five games and has given up big offensive numbers. It sure looks like there are some big-time Blackhawks problems that need fixing.
24. New York Rangers (27-28-11)
The Rangers have lost five games in a row after selling off a bunch of pieces at the NHL trade deadline. But at least the team hasn’t brought King Henrik to tears again this week. So things are getting better.
23. Edmonton Oilers (29-30-7)
The Oil have actually won three games in a row and Leon Draisaitl has topped 40 goals this season. So I guess it’s not all bad in Edmonton, right?
22. Florida Panthers (28-26-12)
The Panthers have lost five games in a row and are just playing out the string now. Boy, what a disappointment for a team that’s got plenty of young talent.
21. Buffalo Sabres (30-28-8)
The Sabres are limping to the end with a 2-7-1 record in their last 10 games, but this is still a pretty good building-block kind of season. It should pay dividends next year.
20. Philadelphia Flyers (32-26-8)
The Flyers have won four out of five games after dealing off Wayne Simmonds at the trade deadline. Who'd have thought?
19. Arizona Coyotes (32-29-5)
Lean times for the Coyotes with Brad Richardson leading the team in goals, but they're hanging around the playoff pack. They're certainly better than people expected them to be.
18. Colorado Avalanche (29-26-12)
How are the Avalanche second-to-last in the Central Division despite a plus-9 goal differential? This team kind of defies logic right now.
17. Minnesota Wild (32-27-8)
Back-to-back losses to the Predators are the state of things for the Wild right now after being sellers at the deadline, but they’re still in the hunt for the playoffs in a weak-ish Western Conference.
16. Dallas Stars (34-27-5)
Three big wins over the last week have the Stars looking good for the playoffs. But why can’t these guys get to work on time?
15. Vegas Golden Knights (36-26-5)
The Golden Knights have won four in a row and outscored their opponents 16-6 over the last four games. It looks like they’re making their move after getting Mark Stone at the deadline.
14. Columbus Blue Jackets (37-26-3)
How do you lose 4-0 to the Oilers if you’re a team that’s in a playoff hunt? The Blue Jackets are still sniffing around the postseason, but they can’t lose games like that.
13. St. Louis Blues (34-25-6)
The Blues have lost four of the last six games and are definitely removed from that epic win streak. But they’re still in a playoff spot and it’s theirs to lose.
11. Pittsburgh Penguins (35-22-9)
Jake Guentzel continues to score some big goals for the Penguins, who won big games over the Canadiens and Panthers during the past week. The Penguins are definitely hanging in there.
10. Carolina Hurricanes (36-23-7)
The “Bunch of Jerks” have cracked the top-10 and are in a playoff spot in the Metro Division. It sure looks like it’s becoming one of those fun, special years for the Hurricanes.
9. Nashville Predators (39-25-5)
The Predators aren’t the best and they aren’t the flashiest, but they’re right in the thick of things in the Central Division. And it sure feels like they’re going to be a handful in the playoffs.
8. Winnipeg Jets (39-23-4)
The Jets lost to the Lightning in a high level out-of-conference showdown, but Blake Wheeler also had a four-goal game earlier in the week. So it wasn’t all bad for the Peg.
7. New York Islanders (38-21-7)
We really should give the Islanders the top spot for creating taunting chants about John Tavares’ pajamas. That was pretty awesome.
6. Washington Capitals (38-21-7)
The Capitals have won four games in a row and are finally rising back to the top of the Metro Division. With everybody talking about Tampa, could the defending champs actually sneak up on people?
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (41-21-4)
The Leafs have won five of their last six games and continue to keep a close tail on the Bruins. It should be a really interesting finish for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
4. San Jose Sharks (39-19-8)
A lot of other San Jose Sharks players get the publicity and the hype right now, but boy is Timo Meier having a great season for the Sharks. He’s just another part of a deep, talented group over there.
3. Calgary Flames (41-18-7)
The Flames have dropped a couple in a row and given up 10 goals to the Maple Leafs and Wild. Is that a blip on the radar screen or a bit of a downturn for the top team in the West right now?
2. Boston Bruins (40-17-9)
Wouldn’t it be just the Bruins luck that they’re the second-best team in the NHL, but the first-best just happens to be in their division? Boy, 17 games with points in a row is a pretty epic run.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (51-12-4)
The Bruins showed the Lightning can be beaten when they're road-weary and playing their backup goaltender. But make no mistake, this is still the team to beat in the NHL.