Heading into the final week of the season, much of the attention is on the races for the final playoff seeds and the ordering that will dictate the match-ups in the first round. But at the top of the brackets, the Stanley Cup contenders are trying to make sure they are in the best place possible both physically and mentally to make a run at the championship.
In the Eastern Conference, for instance, the defending champion Penguins went through a recent malaise that saw them lose seven of 11 games, with a particularly flat performance in a 2-0 loss at home to lowly Tampa Bay on March 31. The Pens got
Now, the outcome was one thing, but of more import in the big picture was the fact that with Gonchar back after missing four games with strep throat, the Pens power play tallied twice -- once by Gonchar on a point blast that tied the game with a little over a minute to go. Malkin had returned after missing seven of the team's last eight contests due to a bruised foot. He was dominating at times, with a goal and an assist while creating numerous scoring chances with brilliant stickhandling.
As obvious as that concept sounds, look no further than the Red Wings. All season they've battled injuries and scuffled in the standings, spending much of the regular schedule outside the top eight. When regulars
Getting healthy throughout the lineup has put Detroit's pairings and lines in their proper slots. As such,
In DC, the Capitals are dealing mainly with mental health issues.
Similarly, Boudreau has been putting the emphasis on having goaltender
Boudreau won't tolerate complacency and loose habits because they can surely undo the Capitals' longer-term goal. The coach is addressing Theodore's recent back-to-back starts in which he was pulled in a 5-3 loss to Calgary and yielded five goals in an OTL home loss to Ottawa before righting himself with a 34-save performance in a 3-2 win at Columbus on Saturday. Championship-caliber goaltending has long been one of Washington's biggest needs, and Theodore must be locked-in at top form if the team is to begin answering questions about its ability to go deep and possibly win it all.
On and on at the top, the mental and physical tweaking continues.
The Sharks got
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are pursuing San Jose for the west's top seed while looking for a goaltender to assert himself.
The Devils -- struggling on a recent 3-3-3 skid -- continue to seek the right line combinations to accommodate the offensive bent of
One week from now, the ability of these elite teams to fix their flaws will go a long way toward determining if form holds or we see a round of upsets in the early going.