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Canucks have big skates to fill

NOTE: All records and stats are through games of Monday, March 21.

NHL Power Rankings
1Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 1
Don't underestimate the loss of third-line center Manny Malhotra to the league's top team. One of the NHL's smartest players and best faceoff men, he took a deflected puck to the eye and will miss the rest of the season. This means more ice for center Maxim Lapierre, a chirper and shutdown forward who boosted the Canadiens' playoff run last spring. He'll need to give the Canucks a lift, as well. Last week: 2-1-0
 
2Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 3
With much less drama than last season, when they clinched a playoff berth on the final day, they secured a spot with a shootout win for the second straight year, beating Dallas with about three weeks to spare in their fifth straight one-goal game. "We've always talked about home ice, all rounds, Game 7 if it comes to that in our building," coach Peter Laviolette said. "That's why we continue to push." Last week: 2-0-1
 
3Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 4
They won a pair of games, but their shootout loss to Pittsburgh was one of the season's best matches and hardly discouraging. Trailing 4-0, coach Mike Babcock pulled goalie Jimmy Howard and the Wings rallied to tie in a 13-minute span. Mike Modano, 40 years young, scored just his third goal of the season and first since Nov. 3, after missing three months with a severed tendon in his hand. "It feels good to contribute," he said. "That's what they expect from me." Last week: 2-0-1
 
4Washington Capitals
Last Week: 2
How badly hurt is Alex Ovechkin? Coach Bruce Boudreau tried to downplay the severity of his star's unspecified injury, insisting that the Capitals are just resting their captain. "He's probably got more aches and pains than the normal guy because he, A) is a physical player, and B) he gets hit more often. But he's just sore." However, when asked if Ovie could play if the playoffs started today, Boudreau answered, "I don't know. Probably not." Granted, with 10 wins in their last 11 games, the Capitals have some breathing room, but they would surely breathe easier with a healthy Ovechkin. Last week: 2-1-0
 
5San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 6
San Jose Sharks (42-23-8)
Though he struggled early in the season, enduring a 15-game goalless streak, Joe Pavelski has been sizzling lately, leading the NHL in scoring during the week with 11 points in four games, including two tallies against St. Louis and a career-high four assists vs. Dallas. His emergence will take some heat off the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. Last week: 3-0-0
 
6Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 5
As if they weren't shorthanded enough without two-frontline stars, they must now endure a self-inflicted wound by Matt Cooke, who was justly suspended through the first round of the playoffs for elbowing the head of Ranger defenseman Ryan McDonagh. That both GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma supported the ban, Cooke's fourth, confirms their frustration with him and the type of headshots that sidelined captain Sidney Crosby. Last week: 2-1-0
 
7Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 11
Phoenix Coyotes (39-24-11)
With home-ice advantage in the opening round within their grasp and questions about their future in Arizona a distraction, according to captain Shane Doan, they began a six-game homestand with a 2-1 loss to Chicago after five straight wins against conference foes. The loss marked a milestone in the career of unsung blueliner Adrian Aucoin, who appeared in his 1,000th NHL game. "As a fifth-round draft choice, my first couple of years in the league were kind of like a honeymoon where I was so excited just to be here," he said. Last week: 3-1-0
 
8Boston Bruins
Last Week: 7
Boston Bruins (39-22-10)
Granted, their 4-3 OT loss to Nashville was only one game, but coach Claude Julien saw it as more symptomatic of the recent slippage in play by his team. "We need sharpness as far as how we play the game right now," he said. "We're making some poor decisions mentally. We're taking lot of bad penalties, and that's more mental than physical." Last week: 1-1-1
 
9Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 8
After an SO loss in Montreal and a tough OT setback in Ottawa in which they blew a 2-0 lead with 7:30 to play, the sagging Bolts were left with one win in their past five games, and one regulation victory in 11 matches this month. They're also not scoring -- two goals or less in nine of their last 12 outings. "We need to play 60 minutes in our defensive zone," grumbled coach Guy Boucher. "When you're not scoring much, you can't let down like that." Last week: 0-0-2
 
10Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 10
Once on the brink of missing the playoffs, they marched to within a point of starting a series on home ice by snaring a thrilling 2-1 win over Calgary. The teams traded goals in the last six minutes, in OT the Kings killed their 35th straight penalty, and goalie Jon Quick improved to 8-0 in shootouts. Now the bad news: First-line winger Justin Williams is expected to miss three to four weeks with a separated shoulder after taking a hard check into the boards from Robyn Regehr. Last week: 2-1-1
 
11Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 9
With Boston on tap this week, the Habs have to be thankful their win-one, lose-one approach to catching the B's has been answered by their rivals' recent skid. Meanwhile, feisty P.K. Subban outdid Habs legends Doug Harvey, Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard by becoming the first rookie defenseman in franchise history to score a hat trick. "I never thought in a million years I'd get a hat trick in an NHL game," Subban said after Habs' 8-1 rout of the Wild. Last week: 2-2-0
 
12Nashville Predators
Last Week: 14
Impressive rally vs. Ryan Miller and the Sabres in Buffalo, trailing by a pair when torrid rookie Blake Geoffrion (six goals in 11 games since joining the Preds last month) tallied twice in the final 2:27 to tie and Martin Erat scored 27 seconds into OT. The win improved their recent stretch mark to 7-2-2. "We stole one," said coach Barry Trotz. "If we need to get points like that, we know we can." Last week: 3-1-0
 
13Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 16
Anaheim Ducks (40-27-5)
"Where have you gone, Ray Emery?" doesn't have DiMaggio-like resonance, but at least there's an answer to the question. The scrappy goalie made his first appearances of the season, completing his recovery from hip surgery by turning away 61 of 63 shots in a pair of wins over St. Louis and local rival LA. Razor Ray last started for the Flyers 13 months ago and signed with Anaheim as a free agent on Feb. 7. His return to form could prove to be a godsend in the wild western playoff race. "We realize that one day you're in eighth, the next day you're in 10th, so it's a battle all the time," he says. Last week: 3-0-0
 
14Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 12
Two wins in their last six, but here comes forward Marcus Kruger, 21, their no. 5 prospect who produced 35 points in 52 Swedish League games this season. Veteran forward Patrick Sharp, fifth in the NHL with 24 goals when he banged knees with the Yotes' Rotislav Klesla, will likely be back for the playoffs. Meanwhile, rookie goalie Corey Crawford tries to hold the fort in the face of fatigue concerns. "He made two of his biggest saves of the year in the critical late moments of the game," coach Joel Quenneville said after Sunday's triumph over Phoenix. Last week: 1-1-0
 
15Dallas Stars
Last Week: 13
Dallas Stars (38-25-9)
Even with their recent 7-3-3 spurt, the playoffs remain a marathon chase and they've had their share of injuries of late, but at least they control-their-own-destiny as they sit ninth in the tight western pack. In their next six tilts, they'll play one game each against teams three through eight. "It seems like every game is a playoff game at this stage," says Brenden Morrow. "The guys who have been through that are the ones who usually come out okay on the other end." Last week: 1-1-1
 
16New York Rangers
Last Week: 19
In four straight wins, they scored 20 goals and have 31 in their six victories this month. The most satisfying triumph was their 5-2 affair in Pittsburgh where they scored four in the last 10:32 after Matt Cooke's infamous elbow to Ryan McDonagh's noggin gift-wrapped a five-minute power play. The game marked the fourth time that Henrik Lundqvist has faced at least 40 shots this season. His stats in those games (3-1-0; 1.51; .964) suggest he likes the work. Last week: 3-0-0
 
17Calgary Flames
Last Week: 15
Calgary Flames (37-27-11)
After a great 16-3-3 run moved them into the playoff picture, they flickered and flushed five of their last six games. They're the first club in the league to play 75 games, but four of their final seven will be against non-playoff teams (Colorado, St. Louis, two vs. Edmonton). "It's no time to run out of gas," says coach Brent Sutter. "We've had some outstanding stretches and we still control our outcome." Last week: 1-1-2
 
18Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 17
Buffalo Sabres (35-28-9)
They pumped in a season-high eight goals vs. Atlanta, then coughed up a 3-1 lead in the final 2:27 of regulation vs the Preds and started blowing gaskets. Goalie Ryan Miller stormed past his teammates, but later insisted there was nothing to read into it other than good old fashioned anger. Paul Gaustad chewed out reporters for stepping on the team logo in the locker room. "It's not something we normally reveal to you guys, but we care." Gaustad grumped. "You happened to see some of it." Ah, the pressures of clinging to an eight seed... Last week: 1-1-1
 
19Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 24
In none of their first nine games this month did they score more than two regulation goals and they needed late magic to pull off a win against the Islanders, as Eric Cole tied the game, 2-2, with 4:37 to play and Joni Pitkanen struck at 3:58 of OT. Too bad they can't play the Isles the rest of the way as the 'Canes haven't lost to them in regulation in 11 straight. "It's hard to overstate our desperation level there at the end," said coach Paul Maurice. Last week: 2-1-0
 
20Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 20
Well, so much for shooting their way to respectability. A day after putting five pucks past Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom, they squeezed out just 13 shots, including a paltry two in the first period in a 3-0 loss to the Devils. The again-mourning Jackets have won twice in their last 12 games and dropped five straight at home. "This was an embarrassing effort," moaned goalie Steve Mason as another lost season in Columbus wheezes to a close. Last week: 1-2-1
 
21Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 18
Minnesota Wild (35-30-8)
After a 1-5-1 stretch, they find themselves back on the outside of the playoff picture and their 8-1 home-ice loss to the Habs was among the worst games in franchise history. It was the first time the team had ever given up eight goals or more at home and the first time it had lost by seven in any building. "Our execution was probably the worst I've seen in just about two years now here," said coach Todd Richards, who probably thinks his team's execution would be a good idea. Last week: 0-2-1
 
22St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 21
St. Louis Blues (32-31-9)
T.J. Hensick scored his first NHL goal in 16 months in a loss to the Sharks, and coach Davis Payne has been harping about his team being a step slow in recent games as it plays out the string. "We didn't have the right amount of detail in our positional play earlier against teams that can possess the puck in your own zone," he observed. Hopefully, that'll get fixed in time for next season. Last week: 2-1-0
 
23Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 25
Rarely can a team count on so many offensive contributions from so many unlikely sources this late in the season as the Leafs got in their 5-2 victory over the Bs. Luke Schenn scored his fourth goal of the season on an end-to-end rush. Joey Crabb and Mike Brown each notched their third tally. Keith Aulie picked up his second and Nazem Kadri potted the first of his young career. "We can't expect that every night," said Crabb, who came out of his shell to address the media. "That's a bonus for us." And a good sign for the future. Last week: 2-1-0
 
24New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 23
Martin Brodeur needed only 13 saves to serve up yet another bucket of whitewash in a 3-0 win over the Jackets. The victory felt very typical of the old Devils, as he extended his career marks to 623 wins and 115 shutouts. With Brodeur back to playing nearly every game, he is at .500 (21-21-2) for the season. The Devils will likely fall short of playoffs, but at least one turnaround is still on track. The future Hall-of-Famer has never finished below .500 since he broke into the league in 1991-92. Last week: 2-2-0
 
25Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 22
It wasn't so much a bad game that embodied the shortcomings of a once-promising season, but a single play. In the middle of a hideous 8-2 loss to the Sabres, one of the teams Atlanta must overtake to make the playoffs, there was Buffalo's Nathan Gerbe, all 5'5" of him, scoring on his fourth rebound in front of the Thrashers' barely defended cage. "We have to play with pride," sighed coach Craig Ramsay. "We lost our pride and our compete." Last week: 1-2-0
 
26Florida Panthers
Last Week: 27
Florida Panthers (29-33-10)
They are, if nothing else, consistent. A loss followed by a win has continued for seven straight games and it doesn't take much to realize that any postseason hope depends on a sustained streak. Just not this kind. Apropos of their ups and downs, rookie Evgeny Dadonov produced his first two-goal outing in his first game back after missing 20 with a broken finger. Yet he was on the ice for three goals-against in a 4-3 loss. "I knew exactly what I had to do defensively," he said, "but I couldn't do it. My brain was doing other things." Last week: 1-1-1
 
27New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
Apparently there wasn't a dry eye in the joint as the medical staff's most familiar patient returned to the lineup and celebrated with a 4-3 SO win over Florida. Yes, Rick DiPietro made 29 saves and two more in the skills competition in his first game back since suffering facial fractures in a somewhat one-sided fight with Pens goalie Brent Johnson. "It was a very emotional game for all of us," P.A. Parenteau. "It's good to have him back." Last week: 1-1-1
 
28Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 28
Ottawa Senators (27-36-9)
They rewarded goalie Craig Anderson (2.11 GAA, .938 save pct. since his arrival from Colorado) with a four-year contact that will keep him in Ottawa through 2015. "We feel he's brought stability," GM Bryan Murray said. "The position is one that we need if we're going to retool, rebuild and improve. (Well, yes, it's hard to win without a goalie.) Very definitely, Craig has stepped in and allowed our team to play hockey the way we think we have to play going forward." Last week: 2-1-0
 
29Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 29
The foundering Avs finally emerged from 0-9-1 and 1-18-2 funks with a 3-2 SO win in Edmonton, as Brian Elliott made 31 saves. "You could even tell today at practice," said proud coach Joe Sacco, "as much as we've been trying to keep positive, you can tell the guys certainly had a little more energy out there." Last week: 1-2-0
 
30Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Edmonton Oilers (23-39-10)
Since their three-game win streak to start the month, they're winless in six straight and have been outscored 22-6 in that time. Even typically positive coach Tom Renney, who often praises effort while bemoaning execution, had his knickerbockers in a knot about his team's compete level after a loss to lowly Colorado. "We didn't come out with the gumption that we should have," he fumed. "I was disappointed our bench didn't pick one another up." Apparently the Oilers lay down on the job. Last week: 0-2-1
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