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Shark alert issued in the Pacific

Hard to believe that the regular season will end in less than two weeks. A lot of people around the rinks have commented, "Man, this season has gone by fast." It sure does seem like it.

There are still some good races going on -- to reach the postseason and for a better seeding. Tuesday's Buffalo-Washington game figures to be a dandy, a virtual playoff match. Otherwise, the top teams are essentially entrenched. The Penguins held the top spot and will be tough to knock out. Of course, all records will reset to 0-0 soon enough.

A DISCLAIMER (of sorts): These rankings are based not just on each team's record, but an empirically tested formula that includes a) realistic near-term future expectations; b) consensus talent level and payroll considerations and; c) whatever the Magic 8-Ball I've had since I was seven years old tells me will happen. One more thing: Rest assured that I don't have it in for your team. OK, so I once hated the Philadelphia Flyers with a passion bordering on the psychotic, but that was 30-something years ago and Dave Schultz has long since retired. I welcome your emails to the link attached to my name above, and I always respond -- even to the ones that start with "Dear Idiot."

All stats and records through games of Monday, March 26.

NHL Power Rankings
1Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 1
It's only a matter of time before they overtake the Rangers and win the Eastern Conference. At least that's my prediction. Evgeni Malkin had another ridiculous week, chalking up one more first star honor from the NHL. And Sidney Crosby has been downright unbelievable for a guy who missed so much time. One of the few who compares to what he's done (25 points in 15 games) is Peter Forsberg, who missed all of the 2001-02 regular season with ankle problems, then led the playoffs in scoring despite playing only three rounds (27 points in 20 games). Last week: 3-1-0
 
2St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 2
St. Louis Blues (47-20-9)
Kevin Shattenkirk is in the top-5 of the league's best players who most fans would probably have trouble identifying in a police lineup. With 41 points and a plus-25 in 74 games, he should get a few votes for the Norris Trophy. Hard to believe this team fired its coach early on this season and might still win the Presidents' Trophy. Last week: 1-1-1
 
3New York Rangers
Last Week: 3
They continue to kind of shuffle along down the stretch, playing what has been for them mostly mediocre-to-good hockey, nothing great. But all those banked early points have given them a slight inside track on the conference title. They really need to win that crown, to my way of thinking, because they are a different team at Madison Square Garden. Last week: 2-1-0
 
4Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
All anyone in Vancouver cares about right now is Daniel Sedin's condition. Coach Alain Vigneault said Monday that the winger has a concussion -- due to the suspension-worthy hit by Chicago's Duncan Keith -- and nobody knows when he'll be back. The Canucks aren't going to win the Stanley Cup with one of the twins out of the lineup for the entire playoffs. Last week: 2-0-1
 
5Nashville Predators
Last Week: 5
Frankly, they've been a slight disappointment since the trade deadline, when they got a handful of players. They lost an ugly 6-3 decision at home to Edmonton (Edmonton!) last week and were starched, 5-1, by the Penguins, damaging their hopes of winning the Central Division. Pekka Rinne needs to start sharpening his game in net if these guys are to do something they've never done in franchise history: get past the second round of the playoffs. Last week: 2-2-0
 
6Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 9
A couple of wins stopped their six-game skid and quieted some of the bashing. Remember, they'd been playing for a while without captain Nick Lidstrom, but he's back and what do you know, the Wings go 2-0 after his return, locking up a playoff berth for a record 21st consecutive season. They definitely need to toughen up and be better on the road, though. Last week: 2-0-1
 
7Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 7
Ilya Bryzgalov was seen limping around the dressing room after a loss to Tampa Bay on Monday, but the Flyers say their hot goalie will be OK -- though he wasn't so hot on Monday. Nevertheless, it's been an impressive late-season run by Breezer and company to get back among the elite, and they still have an outside shot at the conference title, though losing to the Bolts probably ended any realistic hope. Last week: 2-2-0
 
8Boston Bruins
Last Week: 6
Boston Bruins (44-28-3)
Nice to see old man Marty Turco get his first win in 13 months on Sunday night in Anaheim. Older man Tim Thomas looked like his usual clutch self in a win at Los Angeles the previous night. Even the ancient Brian Rolston is producing points. A division title looks likely for Boston's geezers. Last week: 2-1-0
 
9San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 17
San Jose Sharks (39-27-10)
After walloping Colorado on Monday night, they took the Pacific Division lead and are looking like they care again. Joe Thornton is starting to pile up points, with at least one in seven of his last nine contests. These fish are getting hot at just the right time. Last week: 3-1-0
 
10Dallas Stars
Last Week: 16
Dallas Stars (41-31-5)
They lost an ugly one at Calgary on Monday night and it cost them the Pacific lead. Still, they're playing pretty well, with wins in six of their last 10 games. But coach Glen Gulutzan was very upset at his team's undisciplined play against the Flames. "It cost us the hockey game," the rookie coach told reporters. "I thought that we had the game, we were in a good spot, up 2-1, we make an error, and then we just take penalty after penalty until they get a two-goal lead. Dumb, dumb penalties." Last week: 2-3-0
 
11Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 8
Good news for Hawks fans: Jon Toews (concussion) skated for a seventh straight day on Monday and there is optimism that he'll be cleared for contact soon. "Every day I'm pushing myself a little bit harder," he told the Chicago Tribune. "Every day seems to be a step forward, which is a good thing." The Hawks have done a nice job of staying afloat without their captain, though they did get blown out by Nashville, 6-1, on Sunday night and they've lost blueliner Duncan Keith to a five-game suspension. Last week: 2-1-0
 
12New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 14
An offensive slump (seven goals in their last 10 games) prompted coach Peter DeBoer to shuffle his lines a bit at practice on Monday. "I just think I've got to get comfortable over these last six games heading into the playoffs with four lines that I feel I can trust, and also that can create some offense," he told reporters. "That's the goal. It's a tough time of year. We're going to move guys around until we get that." Last week: 1-1-1
 
13Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 15
Ottawa Senators (39-28-10)
They essentially knocked the Jets out of the playoff picture on Monday in Winnipeg and are looking like a safe bet to make the postseason. It's a tremendous testament to first-year coach Paul MacLean. He's also gotten his No. 1 goalie, Craig Anderson, back from a hand injury. Don't overlook these guys in the playoffs. Last week: 2-2-0
 
14Florida Panthers
Last Week: 10
Florida Panthers (36-24-15)
They're almost there for the first time since 2000, but it's a nervous time in Sunrise as they hold a skinny division lead and start a four-game road trip in Montreal. They could have made things easier on themselves, but they lost three of four (two in OT) last week and must play the Capitals in the season's second-to-last game, which could decide the Southeast. Last week: 1-1-2
 
15Washington Capitals
Last Week: 19
Alex Ovechkin has picked a good time to get hot -- eight points in his last five games -- as the Caps try to hold on to the eighth playoff spot. You might say they have a big game on Tuesday night against Buffalo. (The Sabres are in ninth.) It will feature two of the NHL's three stars of last week: Ovechkin and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Last week: 1-0-2
 
16Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 20
Buffalo Sabres (37-29-10)
A win in Washington on Tuesday will give them the momentum for sure. It should be a great game. Ryan Miller has won his last four starts, posting a 1.26 goals-against average and .956 saves percentage. A bit more consistency from forward Jason Pominville (no points in his last two games, though he does have 67 for the season) and they'll have a great shot at beating out the Caps. Last week: 3-0-0
 
17Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 11
After six wins in a row, Darryl Sutter's team was cooled by Boston and Vancouver. That was a tough 1-0 defeat on Monday, a game in which LA outshot the Canucks, 38-25. The Kings' home-and-home series against San Jose in their final two games will be monumental. Last week: 2-2-0
 
18Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 13
Phoenix Coyotes (37-27-13)
Shane Doan's three-game ban for a foolish elbow to Jamie Benn in Dallas hurt the Yotes and cast a pall over Phoenix, no doubt about it. It was a surprising lack of discipline by their captain so late in the season. They were blown out by St. Louis on Sunday night, but they're fortunately still in the hunt for one of the final Western playoff spots and the Pacific title. Last week: 1-1-2
 
19Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 12
It looks like they'll miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. With only four games left, they probably need to win them all and get help from other teams to avoid such a fate. Whether coach Joe Sacco, in the final year of his contract, gets a new deal will be a prime topic if the Avs tee it up early. They did have the NHL's youngest team and one of the lowest payrolls in the league. Hard to expect miracles, I guess. Last week: 1-2-1
 
20Calgary Flames
Last Week: 18
Calgary Flames (35-27-15)
They still have life after a crucial win over Dallas on Monday. As I've written all season long here, the Flames are one of the hardest teams to figure out that I've seen in a long time. They just can't seem to get on a real run, but they never lose too many in a row, either. Last week: 1-1-2
 
21Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 24
Guy Boucher's team deserves credit for playing hard to the end and becoming a spoiler. The Bolts knocked off the Flyers on Monday night to keep their very faint playoff hopes alive. It was their third win in a row. Last week: 3-0-0
 
22Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 23
Anaheim Ducks (32-33-11)
Ryan Getzlaf has a six-game point streak. Trouble is, as it has been most of the season: he's scored no goals in those games and is still trying to crack double figures. If Anaheim is to get back in the playoffs next season, they need Getzlaf to be a lamplighter again. Last week: 1-1-0
 
23Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 21
Winnipeg Jets (35-33-8)
It was a fun first season for Winnipeggers, but only a minor miracle will see the Jets go beyond the first week of April. Just not quite enough depth in all areas. They didn't get good defense and goaltending down the stretch, allowing eight goals to Pittsburgh last week and six to Ottawa on Monday. Last week: 1-3-0
 
24Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 22
Looking for a reason why it didn't quite work out for the 'Canes this season? Check out the third period, where they've allowed 86 goals so far. Only Columbus has coughed up more (89). Last week: 1-2-0
 
25New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
John Tavares became the first Islander since Alexei Yashin in 2001-02 to get 75 points in a season. That's given Islanders fans something to feel good about. Otherwise, the only excitement at Nassau Coliseum these days is an asbestos contamination lawsuit and investigation. Last week: 2-1-0
 
26Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (31-36-9)
They are playing well near the end, and they played well in the beginning. In the long middle part of the schedule? Let's not go there. With those talented kids up front, though, it's only a matter of time before the Oil becomes a consistently good team again. Last week: 3-0-1
 
27Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 27
It's been just a dismal second half for the Leafs, who will miss the postseason for the seventh straight year. Reports out of Hogtown say goalie Jonas Gustavsson is probably headed elsewhere next season. Remember when teams flew all the way to Sweden to court this guy? Last week: 1-1-1
 
28Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 25
Minnesota Wild (31-34-10)
Thursday night will be "Minnesota North Stars Night" at Xcel Energy Center. More than 30 North Stars alumni are slated to be there and be honored. That's a nice touch by the Wild, who haven't had much else to celebrate lately. Last week: 1-2-0
 
29Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 28
The local Gazette noted on Monday that forward Tomas Plekanec has played with 24 different line combinations this season. Hard to develop consistency with such a revolving door of linemates. GM Pierre Gauthier seems likely to be shown the door soon as Montreal misses the playoffs for the seventh time in its last 17 seasons. Last week: 1-2-0
 
30Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
After a brief bout with respectability, they are looking more like themselves again, with 13 goals-allowed in their past two games. Just 12 more days and this hot mess of a season will be out of its misery. Last week: 1-3-0
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