Monday April 12th, 2010

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific. They're heavily influenced by recent play, taking into account expectations versus achievement, quality of opponents, injuries, hot or cold streaks, lucky bounces, bad breaks, official malfeasance, travel schedule, and my uncannily intuitive gut calls on how each team stacks up against the rest of the playoff qualifiers.

NOTE: Since we're heading into the postseason, teams that failed to make the cut were spared the indignity of a final, humiliating ranking. Please note that I, unlike some referees, do not have it in for your team and no homer glasses of any color were worn during the establishment of this list.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings or maybe a cool video clip that cries out to be shared? Scroll to the bottom of this page for my Mailbag. I read 'em all and if you're halfway civil -- or at least clever in your skewering of my decisions -- I'll try to get back to you.

NHL Power Rankings
1Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 2
They were my preseason favorite to return to the Final and, going by their 16-3-2 record coming out of the Olympic break, there's no reason to shift from that position now. A 1-0 win over the Jackets on Friday clinched their 10th consecutive season with at least 100 points, a benchmark that looked unreachable six weeks ago. After finishing fifth in the West, they'll have to open on the road for the first time since 1991, but are playing with the poise and confidence that suggests a long run is in the cards. Last week: 3-0
2Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 6
After watching his team systematically dismantled last week, one Western executive wondered, "How is anyone going to beat those guys now?" Apparently recovered from their post-Olympic malaise, they finished on a 6-0-1 roll. The offense is clicking, the re-jigged defense regained its footing and Antti Niemi appears capable of shutting the door after winning six of his final seven starts. But the question still lingers after losing their closer in OT: can they find a way past the Wings? Last week: 3-0-1
3Washington Capitals
Last Week: 1
It was a frustrating final weekend for Alex Ovechkin, who fell short in his bid to retain the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies. Still, the Great 8 had to be pleased with his team's success. Even as the Caps dropped their finale in a shootout to the Bruins, they finished with 121 points, the most by any team since Detroit had 124 in 2005-06 and the most in franchise history. Now they have to buck the odds that accompany their regular season success. Just seven of the 23 previous winners of the Presidents' Trophy have gone on to capture the Cup. Last week: 3-0-1
4San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 5
San Jose Sharks (51-20-11)
"We played 82 exhibition games to get to where we are right now and start the real season" said winger Devin Setoguchi. Certainly the proper attitude, but you'll forgive their fans if they maintain a show-me state of mind for a couple of rounds. San Jose earned top seed in the West after finishing on an 8-1-1 roll that featured a clear emphasis on locking down their own zone. Can they maintain that structural integrity in the postseason? That ability may be all that separates this group from a Cup challenge...or a significant housecleaning. Last week: 3-0
5Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 3
Phoenix Coyotes (50-25-7)
The beautiful thing about Saturday's Game 82 loss to the Sharks? For the first time in eight years, there's going to be a Game 83. Thursday's come-from-behind stunner over the Kings clinched home ice for an unlikely playoff berth, along with franchise records for wins (50) and points (107). Now, if only the Glendale city council will approve one or both of the arena lease proposals coming before it on Tuesday night, then this might be the start of something big. Last week: 2-0-1
6Nashville Predators
Last Week: 7
After playing just four games in April, they enter the playoffs as the league's most rested team. They also come in as one of the hottest, going 11-3-1 after a being embarrassed by the Sharks on March 11, and they're in decent health. Jason Arnott returned on Wednesday after sitting out eight games with a concussion, and leading scorer Patric Hornqvist is expected to be ready for Chicago after missing the season finale (upper body injury). Last week: 1-1
7Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
With a four-point effort in the season finale against the Flames, Henrik Sedin clinched a wholly unexpected Art Ross Trophy. Brother Daniel lifted him to the title by polishing off three of Henrik's dishes, including one that will go down as one of the best pass-finish combinations of the year. The trick now is to use that skill and experience to quell a young and untested Kings squad. Last week: 1-1-1
8Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 10
Sure, they're the defending champs...but how seriously should we take them? A 7-5-3 stumble through their final 15 could suggest a proven team that's lying in the weeds, waiting for the serious hockey to start. But their 0-8-2 record against fellow contenders New Jersey and Washington, and 0-3-1 against the West's top four teams hints at a club that might be missing the spark that carried it to the Cup last spring. Can they turn it on at will? We'll find out soon enough. Last week: 2-2
9Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 8
Buffalo Sabres (45-27-10)
Their bid to finish second in the East was quashed by Jamie Langenbrunner's empty-netter in the dying moments of Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Devils, but for all their inconsistency this season, they have to be pleased with the sixth division title in franchise history. They enter the postseason with a money goalie in Ryan Miller, and a struggling sniper who may have found his mojo at just the right time. Thomas Vanek had four goals against the Sens on Saturday before scoring the lone tally against New Jersey on Sunday. Last week: 2-2
10New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 9
Can we all stop doubting them now? Even though they won just five of their last 10 games, that was enough to clinch their ninth Atlantic title in the last 13 years. Problem is, it also set them up with a less than favorable first-round matchup against the Flyers, a team that took five of six meetings this season. The return of Paul Martin (five assists and a plus-six last week) and consistent production from Ilya Kovalchuk (27 points in 27 games) will be key to tilting the balance back in their favor. Last week: 3-1
11Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 12
With three shootout losses in their previous four games, they were taking on the unmistakable stench of flop sweat down the stretch. Sunday's come-from-behind OT win over the Avs meant a lot more than just the two points they needed to clinch sixth. They'll need the confidence from that game, as well as their franchise-record 46th win, if they hope to stage an upset of the heavily favored Canucks. Last week: 2-0-2
12Boston Bruins
Last Week: 16
Boston Bruins (39-30-13)
They clinched sixth in the East with a 4-2 win over Carolina on Saturday, then got something they really needed on Sunday: offense from Michael Ryder. The $4 million man was junked to the fourth line last week after scoring just one goal in 22 games, but he came up big with a pair of goals. Boston needs something from him and Marco Sturm (who broke a 15-game drought of his own with his third-period goal) if they hope to get past the Sabres. Last week: 3-0-1
13Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 13
Ottawa Senators (44-32-6)
Looks like Alex Kovalev won't get a chance to prove his true value in the playoffs, after all. The $5 million winger was lost for the duration after tearing his ACL in Thursday's loss to the Bolts. He spent the season enhancing his reputation as the league's most frustrating player, interspersing flashes of brilliance with weeks of indifferent play. Will the Sens miss him or be better off for not having to carry him? Bet on the latter. Last week: 1-1-1
14Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 18
Finishing with three defeats is troubling, but not so much as is the team's health. Matt Duchene was injured in Wednesday's grim loss in Edmonton, and while early word is he'll be ready to go on Wednesday, he won't be close to 100 percent. Peter Mueller, their best player down the stretch, is also iffy with lingering concussion symptoms. This could be a short series against the Sharks. Last week: 1-1-2
15Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 11
Sneaking into the playoffs on the back of an OT loss to the lowly Leafs might not have cut it in the days of the Rocket or Le Gros Bil, but after a 3-5-2 finish pushed them to the brink, this year's Habs will take the pass and run. The question now: how far can Jaro Halak carry them? His breakthrough season ended on a down note as he tired in the stretch. A few days off will help, but the team has to be concerned after his misplays almost cost it that game against Toronto. Last week: 0-1-2
16Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 25
They blew a 10-point lead over the last three weeks of the season, capped off by a 4-3 loss to the Rangers on Friday, but at least managed to capture the one game they needed most. Third-stringer Brian Boucher outdueled Henrik Lundqvist in Sunday's 2-1 shootout thriller, a win that propelled the bumbling Flyers into the postseason. Despite their track record against the Devils, their inconsistency makes it tough to get worked up about this team's chances. Last week: 2-1-0

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