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Parity reigns in the NHL at the Sochi Olympics break

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The Jets got hot and climbed back into the playoff picture, proving anything can happen this season.

Dig out the mothballs. Board up the windows. The NHL's Olympic break has finally arrived, shuttering the league until Feb. 25 while Sid and Ovi and Hank battle it out for bragging rights at the Sochi Games.

But just because the league's on vacation doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about. There's the parity, with 25 of the NHL's 30 teams still having a realistic shot to grab a playoff berth. There's trade buzz, with the deadline coming up hard on March 5, and about a dozen key free agents up for grabs, albeit it at a very hefty price. There are struggles in Anaheim and Chicago, where a couple of elite teams have spent the past few weeks sliding back to the peloton, and surges in Dallas and Montreal that have shaken up the wild card bids. And there's every reason to root for the top two teams in this week's ranking--St. Louis and Boston--to meet up in the Stanley Cup Final after another bruising thriller that ended with a 3-2 OT win for the Blues.

With three-quarters of the season in the books, here's how the league sorts out at the Olympic break:

Notable rise: Montreal Canadiens (23 to 16)
Notable fall: Vancouver Canucks (19 to 25)

NHL Power Rankings
1St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 2
St. Louis Blues (39-12-6)
They passed out extra hockey like candy on Halloween during their four-game homestand, going to the shootout three times and OT once on their way to picking up seven out of a possible eight points. That finishing kick allowed them to grab a share of the Central Division lead at the break and improved their record to 7-3 in the skills competition. (Last week: 2-0-1)
 
2Boston Bruins
Last Week: 4
Boston Bruins (37-16-4)
The B's are playing arguably their best hockey of the season, going 8-1-2 in their last 11 games, but there aren't many who believe that this defense is good enough, or experienced enough, for a deep playoff run. Look for GM Peter Chiarelli to add some veteran presence, though not one of the big names like Dan Girardi. (Last week: 2-0-1)
 
3Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 1
Anaheim Ducks (41-14-5)
They played better while losing to the Blackhawks than they did in beating the Predators, but the win's the thing, especially when it snaps a three-game losing streak right before the start of the Olympic break. You have to admire this team's ability to turn it on late and steal the W as Anaheim did against Nashville, but coming from behind isn't the best path to long-term success. The challenge for coach Bruce Boudreau down the stretch is to have his team ready when the puck drops. (Last week: 1-1-0)
 
4Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 5
The Pens were rocked by the news that star defenseman Kris Letang had suffered a stroke and will be out of action indefinitely. Reports suggest his condition isn't life threatening, but let's face it: any time you have to qualify a situation as to its ability to threaten life, it's clearly no small matter. His return to full health is the team's first priority, but you have to think GM Ray Shero will be looking at his options ahead of the trade deadline. (Last week: 1-0-1)
 
5Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 3
It ended on a high note with a 5-2 win over the struggling Isles, but their East Coast roadie was a slap in the face for the Avs, who were outworked and outchanced in each of the first three games. There wasn't much to like about their play, though it's hard to be critical of Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. The two franchise tent poles offered up some of their best hockey of the season before the break, with captain Landeskog extending his career-best point streak to nine games while Kid MacKinnon has seven goals in his last 10. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
6San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 7
San Jose Sharks (37-16-6)
A pair of wins helped them hit the break on a high note after they'd dropped four of their previous five games. They'll come out of it stronger, too, with Logan Couture expected to return to the lineup after missing 16 games, and Raffi Torres, who was injured in exhibition action, set to make his season debut. (Last week: 2-0-0)
 
7Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 6
Can we call it a slump now? Chicago has lost 11 of its 18 games in 2014, and while the Hawks have managed to pull points out of seven of them, that shouldn't be the level of play that a team with this much talent settles for. Maybe there was an Olympic distraction factor at work with 10 Hawks looking ahead to Sochi. Maybe it's just a delayed Stanley Cup hangover. Either way, they need some kind of spark coming out of the break. (Last week: 1-1-0)
 
8New York Rangers
Last Week: 11
Neither Ryan Callahan nor Dan Girardi were moved before last Friday's Olympic roster freeze, and there's a growing sense that both will still be with the team when the trade deadline passes. Risky? Maybe, but why break up a good thing? The Blueshirts are 17-7-1 in their past 25 games, and as one Eastern Conference scout told SI.com last week, "That's one team I wouldn't want to face in the playoffs." (Last week: 2-0-1)
 
9Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 8
With Steven Stamkos closing in on a return to action, it's probably safe to say that the Lightning might be better off for his long stint on IR. Youngsters like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn stepped into the breech and proved they could make significant contributions at this level. The Bolts are a more formidable club moving forward with that established secondary scoring. (Last week:1-2-0)
 
10Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 10
The break couldn't have come at a worse time for the Leafs, who have won five of their past six after knocking off the Canucks, 3-1, in their finale. It was their first win over Vancouver in 12 tries, and counted as their seventh straight win at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs' longest streak in seven years. (Last week: 2-1-0)
 
11Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 12
Minnesota Wild (31-21-7)
They've become a lethal force since the calendar turned, going on an 11-4-2 tear thanks to some surprisingly strong goaltending from rookie Darcy Kuemper (8-2-2) and a more balanced scoring attack. Mikko Koivu wasn't healthy enough to head to Sochi, but he should be ready for the stretch run. (Last week: 2-0-0)
 
12Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 9
No one's complaining about taking three points from a three-game swing through California, but with a playoff spot just out of their grasp, every point missed is a point lost. They'll come back from the break trailing Detroit for the final wild card spot by one point and could use a spark down the stretch. The Jackets might be buyers, but they will also consider moving Marian Gaborik if he's healthy before the deadline. (Last week: 0-1-1)
 
13Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 13
Winnipeg Jets (28-26-6)
If Winnipeg's 9-3-1 record since sacking coach Claude Noel doesn't give you reason enough to believe in them as a legitimate threat down the stretch, consider this: the Jets have gone 5-2-1 on the road with Paul Maurice behind the bench. This team has figured out how to win. Now if it could only figure out how to upgrade the frustratingly lackluster Ondrej Pavelec in net. (Last week: 1-1-1)
 
14Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 14
If the Wings are going to do anything down the stretch, you have to believe it'll be the kids up front who lead the way. Gustav Nyquist (nine goals in his last 10 games) and Tomas Tatar (13 goals this season) have changed the pace of this team with their speed, and Luke Glendening has made it tougher to play against. Where the Wings could use a little veteran experience is on the back end, but their cap crunch will make it tough to add help on the blueline. (Last week: 1-1-0)
 
15Dallas Stars
Last Week: 18
Dallas Stars (27-21-10)
From nine points out in late January to a playoff spot at the break, the Stars continue to yo-yo from frustrating to exhilarating as they try to navigate their way back to legitimacy. That vacillation suggests there's no way of knowing which team we'll see down the stretch, but if its power play keeps producing and the Stars keep their shots-against down as they have during the past few weeks, Dallas might finally get to play some meaningful hockey in April. (Last week: 2-0-1)
 
16Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 23
Nice week for the Habs, who finally managed to tighten things up in the defensive zone and give goalie Carey Price a break from the shooting gallery. Team Canada's starter allowed two goals or fewer in his past six appearances, posting a .957 save percentage ahead of Sochi. (Last week: 3-0-0)
 
17Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 16
They closed out the pre-Olympic portion of the schedule with four straight wins, allowing just four goals-against in the process, to continue their remarkable turnaround under coach Craig Berube. Since its brutal 4-10-1 start, Philadelphia has gone 26-13-5. That total represents the fifth most wins in the league over that period, trailing just St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Anaheim and San Jose. (Last week: 2-0-0)
 
18Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 15
Winning seven of their last 11 moved the 'Canes to within three points of the wild card in the East, but it's the way they finished—losing two of three—that highlights the inconsistency of this team. Coach Kirk Muller has complained repeatedly about passengers, and rightly so. When your fourth line is your best, as it was during the past few games, you're not going to win many. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
19Washington Capitals
Last Week: 24
It's impossible to overstate the importance of their closing win over the Devils. Not only did it let the Caps head into the break having won three of four, it was their first victory over a Metropolitan Division rival in eight tries. Washington has just seven games left against their divisional rivals. Picking up points in those contests will be critical to the Caps' playoff chances. (Last week: 2-1-0)
 
20Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 21
Phoenix Coyotes (27-21-10)
It's nice that they got that victory over the Hawks—no doubt it felt good—but the Coyotes played two must-win games last week ... and lost 'em both. If they could have taken care of business in their home-and-home with Dallas, they would have buried the Stars in the Western Conference playoff race. Instead, they now find themselves looking in from the outside as Dallas holds down the second wild card. If Phoenix misses out, the Yotes can look back at last week as the reason why. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
21Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 17
It's one thing to lose eight of 10 games heading into the break. It's another to lose them all in regulation. Where other teams in the West are finding ways to siphon points out of bad efforts, the Kings come away with a dry tank. Not that this is a bad team, but the futility of the offense—just 13 goals in those 10 games—is an anchor that the Kings can't shed without some kind of shakeup. It's inconceivable that the trade deadline passes without GM Dean Lombardi making a move. (Last week: 1-1-0)
 
22Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 20
Ottawa Senators (26-22-11)
Their 7-2 loss to Boston in the pre-Olympic finale might have been the low point in a season of disappointments. It was the sort of sloppy, mistake-filled effort that suggests this team might not be as close to playoff-worthy as the standing suggest, and proof that GM Bryan Murray can't afford to stand pat with this lineup down the stretch. (Last week: 2-1-0)
 
23New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 22
New Jersey Devils (24-22-13) )
The arrival of Cory Schneider over the summer brought the end of the eventual end of the Martin Brodeur era into sharp focus ... but did anyone really expect it to play out like this? With the Devils struggling to keep pace in the wild card race, it's looking more and more like Brodeur could be moved at the trade deadline. Unless the return is simply too good to pass up, this really isn't the way his saga should play out. (Last week: 1-1-0)
 
24Calgary Flames
Last Week: 28
Calgary Flames (22-29-7)
Going into the break at a 6-2 clip does nothing to improve Calgary's non-existent playoff chances, but it's nice that the Flames are finally being rewarded for the focused work ethic they've shown during the past few months. Brian Burke now takes center stage with Mike Cammalleri and Shane O'Brien among his trade chips ahead of the deadline. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
25Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 19
Did any team need the break more than the Canucks? Losers of seven straight, and 15 of 19 since the start of 2014, these guys need to get away from the rink and heal themselves, both mentally and physically. Daniel Sedin's scoring drought is up to a mind-boggling 19 games. How does that happen? (Last week: 0-3-0)
 
26New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
A 5-2 loss to the Avs sent the Isles into the Olympic break on a 1-6-1 skid and, with just 22 games left on the schedule, almost no chance to avoid another season on the postseason sideline. All that's left now is to maximize the trade deadline returns on Thomas Vanek and Andrew MacDonald, both of whom turned down contract extension offers last week. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
27Nashville Predators
Last Week: 26
They've been outscored 27-25 in their last nine games, but somehow managed to secure points in seven of those contests. That's a testament to the way they play the game, scratching and clawing every step of the way. Problem is, that pace won't help them make up any ground in the playoff race, and until they figure out how to start scoring, the Preds seem doomed to be an also-ran. Expect lots of trade buzz around Shea Weber as the season winds down. (Last week: 0-1-1)
 
28Florida Panthers
Last Week: 27
A 5-1 loss to Carolina in their pre-break finale marked Florida's sixth defeat in its last eight games, a run of ineptitude that all but mathematically ended whatever playoff hopes the Panthers might have held. The focus now is on GM Dale Tallon and his ability to turn pending free agents like Brad Boyes and Tom Gilbert into assets that will help this team in the future. Don't expect much in return for those two ... (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (20-33-7)
They dropped their finale in OT to the Devils, but after taking five of a possible eight points, the Oilers can take a little pride in their East Coast road trip. Ben Scrivens (.940 save percentage since joining the team) and Ilya Bryzgalov (.937 in his last three starts) are giving Edmonton the reliable goaltending that was missing much of the season. (Last week: 1-0-1)
 
30Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 30
Buffalo Sabres (15-34-8)
Make it 11 losses in their last 13 as the Sabres pull the chute on this soul-crushing season. At this point though, wins and losses are meaningless compared to how new GM Tim Murray handles his assets ahead of the trade deadline. He has to be hoping for Ryan Miller to put together another miracle run in Sochi and pump up his value. While Murray can pick up some useful pieces in deals for Steve Ott and Matt Moulson, it's with Miller that he could feather his nest. (Last week: 30) 0-2-0

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