By Adrian Dater
April 03, 2012

"It's only a matter of time before they overtake the Rangers and win the Eastern Conference." That's how, um, yours truly began the summary for the Pittsburgh Penguins in last week's Power Rankings.

Count that among my many personal "Dewey Defeats Truman" proclamations. The Daterjinx (TM) got the Pens pretty good, I must say. It can be a powerful thing. (I used to get nasty emails from Ranger fans angry that their team was not No. 1 here. Now I'm getting emails saying they're thankful that the Blueshirts are not on top.)

I sure didn't foresee the Pens giving up EIGHT goals to Ottawa in one loss, nor their back-to-back defeats at the hands of the mighty Islanders. So, Pittsburgh takes the requisite fall in the standings this week as we welcome a new No. 1 team -- the Vancouver Canucks -- with the Rangers a close second in what will be our last rankings for the regular season. Next week, I'll rank the playoff field, which will qualify as our final top 16. Just in case knowing where your team wound up from 17 to 30 matters to you, I'll list the also-rans in order.

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, April 2.

NHL Power Rankings
1 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
The question persists: who should be the playoff starter? Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider? (Memo to Milan Lucic's girlfriend: it's spelled "Schneider" not "Snyder") It almost certainly will be the veteran Bobby Lou, but the number of people who think Vancouver will be better going with Schneider continues to grow. He's been a wall in net of late, with three goals-allowed in his last three starts, and an overall .937 saves percentage. Luongo is at .920. The Canucks have won six straight despite the absence of winger Daniel Sedin (concussion). Twin brother Henrik said Monday that Daniel is "getting better and better, so we're hopeful." Last week: 4-0-0
2 New York Rangers
Last Week: 3
New York Rangers (50-22-7)
They lost 2-1 to the Bruins at home on Sunday, but it was still a good week. They'd won four in a row previously and pretty much have the conference title wrapped up. They are 9-3 in their last 12 against Boston, incidentally, but it's always nice to have won that last one before the playoffs. Oh well, it's still been a marvelous season at the Garden and the real fun is soon to begin. Last week: 3-1-0
3 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 2
St. Louis Blues (48-21-10)
You might think it was all sweetness and light around Blues headquarters on Monday, but it was probably the longest practice of the season. Coach Ken Hitchcock put his charges through a 90-minute session, long enough for the ice to need resurfacing. St. Louis has lost two in a row, including a 5-2 home setback to Columbus (!) on Saturday that got Hitchcock's dander up. Still, the Blues are a league best 30-5-4 at home. Last week: 1-1-1
4 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 1
After getting that terrific 5-2 win at MSG against the Rangers on March 15, they stumbled with a horrific 8-4 loss to Ottawa nine days later. Then back-to-back losses to the Isles and Sunday's defeat by Philly at home, with at least five goals-against in all three games. Time for the Pens to get back to the more disciplined defensive style that characterized their team play before Sidney Crosby returned. Last week: 1-3-0
5 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 8
Boston Bruins (47-28-4)
They clinched the Northeasy with their win over the Rangers on Sunday and have been playing better hockey after a pronounced dip about three weeks ago, when they lost four straight. Boston is 5-0-1 in its last six and leads all NHL teams with six players who have scored 20 goals or more. From The Times Have Changed Department: The 1977-78 Bruins had 11 guys who potted 20 or more, including the 37-year-old Jean Ratelle, whose 84 points finished 14th-best in the league that season. Where would 84 points leave Ratelle this season, if it had ended Monday night? Fourth. Last week: 3-0-1
6 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 5
In keeping with the "It's good to win the last regular-season game against a tough conference rival" theme as stated above, the Preds got a big victory at Detroit last week. Still, they are 4-5-1 in their last 10, and lots of hockey people still believe in the "How you play down the stretch is how you'll do in the playoffs" meme. Fact is, Nashville has been inconsistent of late and, yes, it's a worry. This franchise has been a winner in recent years, except in the really big ones. Last week: 1-2-0
7 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 7
They're on a late-season hot streak and look destined to play the Pens in a first-round matchup that will be a GREAT series. But goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, the NHL's First Star of the Month for March, has been out the last few days with a fracture in his right foot. The Flyers say he could be back Tuesday night, but Breezer said over the weekend he's still feeling pain. A fractured foot bone usually takes a few weeks to heal. This is a big worry as the playoffs near. Last week: 2-0-1
8 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 11
Chicago Blackhawks (44-26-10)
Coach Joel Quenneville, whose job was in jeopardy after a nine-game losing streak in late January and early February, deserves full marks for getting his team back on track. He deserves fuller marks for doing so without the aid of captain Jonathan Toews, whose health status with a supposedly improving concussion remains the dominant story around the team. Toews skated Monday and took some contact, so that has to be encouraging news. Then again, concussions are an unpredictable beast. Last week: 2-0-2
9 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 6
Their road record (16-21-3) continues to be the great big zit on what has otherwise been another likely 100-point season. A shootout win over Florida on Sunday got them back into the fourth spot in the West, which would provide home-ice advantage for one round at least. But the team they were one point ahead of (Nashville) has been the better team head-to-head. Last week: 1-2-0
10 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 12
There's a high statistical probability that they will play Florida in the first round of the Eastern playoffs. The Devs appear locked into the sixth seed while the Panthers -- despite five fewer points -- look good for third. Florida went 2-1-1 against New Jersey this season, but as of now, I'll take Martin Brodeur over Jose Theodore in a playoff matchup. Last week: 3-0-0
11 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 13
Ottawa Senators (41-28-10)
Only three other NHL teams (Pens, Flyers and B's) have scored more goals than the Sens, who have big forwards who move well and are tough to knock off the puck. Plus, goalie Craig Anderson is back, defender Erik Karlsson appears to be a good bet to win the Norris Trophy, and veteran blueliner Sergei Gonchar has four points in his last four games. It looks like an Ottawa-Boston first-round matchup, which should be a great one, considering that Zdeno Chara will be involved. Last week: 2-0-0
12 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 17
Los Angeles Kings (40-27-13)
I have as much confidence in this team as I do in myself being named Sexiest Man Alive, but however they do it, winning the Pacific will be big. Despite a total lack of consistency and some major scoring droughts, they still look like a decent bet to win the crown. Of concern, however, is the condition of Jeff Carter's ankle, which he hurt Wednesday against Calgary. The Kings say there is no "structural" or ligament damage and it looks like he will be back for the playoffs. Last week: 3-0-1
13 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 14
Florida Panthers (37-25-17)
A win on Tuesday night over Winnipeg and the Panthers will clinch the Southeast title, not to mention their first playoff spot since 2000. Unfortunately, three-point games won't be available to the Cats in the postseason, but it's still a tremendous accomplishment getting this far. It'll be nice to see this beleaguered franchise's fans have something meaningful to cheer for again. Last week: 1-1-2
14 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 18
Phoenix Coyotes (39-27-13)
If they are to make the playoffs for the third straight year, they'll have goalie Mike Smith largely to thank. The big netminder is officially desert hot, with shutouts in his last two starts -- good enough to for the NHL's Third Star of the Week honor. Sunday's 44-save whitewash of Anaheim was impressive enough for Senator (U.S., not Ottawa) John McCain, who made a postgame appearance in the Coyotes dressing room. Last week: 2-0-0
15 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 9
San Jose Sharks (40-29-10)
They got themselves a gigantic win over Dallas on Saturday, but play two of their last three on the road (at Dallas, at LA) and finish at home against the Kings. It seems assured that the finale will mean a playoff berth to the victor. Last week: 1-2-0
16 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 10
Dallas Stars (42-32-5)
They've lost two in a row and six of their last 10, so it's essentially a must-win situation Tuesday at home against the just-mentioned Sharks. Hard to predict what the Stars will do, as they are among the handful of teams that seem to be either hot or cold with no in-between. Last week: 1-1-0
17 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 19
Despite what appears will be the team's third non-playoff season in their last four, coach Joe Sacco and GM Greg Sherman will return. A couple more pieces added to the puzzle and this should be a team good enough for the postseason next year, though it still has a puncher's chance of getting in this spring. Last week: 1-1-0
18 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 15
They could have probably wrapped up the eighth spot in the East on Monday with just a one-point effort. It looked that way until Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos scored two goals in the final 70 seconds to beat them, 4-2. Now they have to root for...gulp...Toronto to help them out against Buffalo on Tuesday night. Last week: 2-2-0
19 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 16
Buffalo Sabres (38-31-10)
After going into Washington and getting what looked like a playoff-worthy win, they lost to Pittsburgh (no shame in that) and then Toronto (much shame in that). If they don't beat the Leafs in a thanks-to-the-schedule-makers home game Tuesday night, you probably can stick a fork in their playoff hopes because Washington currently owns the first tiebreaker (wins in regulation and overtime). Last week: 1-2-0
20 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 21
Dwayne Roloson turned back the clock again on Monday night with some incredible saves against the Capitals -- including one on Mike Green that had the defenseman pounding his stick on the glass afterward in frustration. Then there's the marvelous stick of Steven Stamkos, whose two goals took him to 58, with three games still to play. Last week: 2-2-0
21 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 20
Calgary Flames (35-29-16)
Officially eliminated from the playoff hunt, they were just too up-and-down to merit a berth. They just never seemed to have the right kind of energy to make it. Is that a product of an aging roster? "There's a whole lot of adjectives you could put on it, but it's probably not on the right side of the coin," said veteran Cory Sarich. Last week: 0-2-1
22 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 23
Winnipeg Jets (36-34-9)
A fun first year back in the NHL for Winnipeg, but they won't make the playoffs and the city still hasn't celebrated a postseason series victory since 1987 (yow). At some point, they have to stop being satisfied with just being there and actually win something. Last week: 1-1-1
23 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 28
Minnesota Wild (34-35-10)
After a horrific second-half, they have at least salvaged some face of late with three straight wins. GM Chuck Fletcher has some good young prospects on the way, but they have an aging goaltender in Nik Backstrom and lingering questions about the offense. Last week: 3-1-0
24 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 22
Anaheim Ducks (33-35-11)
Ageless veteran Teemu Selanne scored a goal against Edmonton in the Ducks' final home game, earning chants of "One more year!" from the Honda Center faithful. One more year? How about at least two, the way he continues to play? Even at 41, Selanne continues to pile up points. He enters Tuesday's game in Vancouver with 26 goals and 65 points in 79 games. Play on, indeed. Last week: 1-2-0
25 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 26
Edmonton Oilers (32-39-9)
Coach Tom Renney's team also salvaged some pride down the stretch, entering Monday with a 6-2-2 mark in its previous 10. But it still adds up to another non-playoff showing. Wasn't the salary-cap world supposed to be the great equalizer for this team? Other than a Cinderella run to the Cup final in 2006, the Oilers have made the playoffs only once since the lockout. Last week: 1-3-0
26 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 24
Eric Staal has been a real beast during the second half, which includes a 12-game point streak. Of course, if only he'd had anything close to a good first half, the Canes probably would be able to hang in the playoff field this year. Last week: 1-1-1
27 New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
New York Islanders (33-35-11)
GM Garth Snow failed for the fifth straight season to get his eternally promising team into the postseason, but have no fear: he's coming back for 2012-13 along with coach Jack Capuano. That's what owner Charles Wang said to MSG Network in an interview the other day. This wasn't an 82-game exercise in total frustration like other recent seasons, but it had the bitter tinge of disappointment nonetheless. Last week: 2-2-0
28 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 27
It was just a horrible second half in the Big Smoke (one of Toronto's many nicknames). "Up in smoke" is a good way to describe how the second half went. It devolved into fans wearing bags over their heads. Coach Randy Caryle will return next season, along with GM Brian Burke, and try to transform the Leafs from the more run-and-gun team they were under Ron Wilson to a defense-minded, cycling squad that plays with, um, more truculence. Last week: 1-2-0
29 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 29
Montreal Canadiens (29-35-15)
Everybody has their GM candidate pools ready. Now it's just a matter of which of several names gets the job. Of more concern to Habs fans is the Radio-Canada report that goaltender Carey Price is suffering from a concussion. He missed practice on Monday for what was described by the team as a "therapy day", but it looks clear that something bad has happened to Price when he collided with a teammate at a practice last Thursday. Mon Dieu. Last week: 0-1-2
30 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
They've been a pretty decent spoiler to some teams down the stretch, but there was no chance for this team to escape the last spot in these rankings, not with the kind of first two-thirds of the season it had. Pretty soon, around draft time, we'll get to do the "Could Rick Nash be on the move?" parlor game all over again. Last week: 3-0-0

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