2014 Stanley Cup contenders clear in Week 25 NHL Power Rankings

Tuesday April 8th, 2014

Here we are, after 25 weeks of the 26-week NHL season, and what do we really know?

The Bruins look like the Beasts of the East. They may not survive their own conference, but they're the only team with the depth, goaltending and structure to knock off whoever comes out of the West.

The Canadiens, playing with a confidence they haven't displayed in more than a decade, look like they'll tear through Tampa Bay, while the Penguins find themselves in the odd position of rooting for the Flyers ... so the two archrivals don't meet in the first round.

The Kings vs. the Ducks or Sharks sets up as the greatest first-round series ever, and one of those western powerhouses will go down, but not before exacting a physical price on the winner. The Avalanche are likely to have home ice advantage in their meeting with the Blackhawks ... and they fully deserve it as a reward for their consistency. The Blues are holding down the top spot in the conference, but no longer garner the respect they did a month ago.

Beyond that, there are more questions than answers. Who makes the wild card cut in the East and West? Whose job is on the line? And what will I do with my Mondays now that they'll no longer be devoted to these rankings? (This is our final regular season installment. Next week, look for our special playoffs version.)

Here's how the NHL stacks up after Week 25:

NHL Power Rankings
1Boston Bruins
Last Week: 1
Boston Bruins (53-18-7)
So that's the Loui Eriksson the Bruins traded for last summer! Given a chance to skate in a top-six role, he showed how effectively he can play the puck possession game with a dynamite performance in Boston's 5-2 win over Philadelphia on Saturday. Eriksson collected a career-best four assists and played a stout defensive game while filling in for Jarome Iginla on the top line. He'll likely slide back to the second line when Iggy returns, but his versatility could be the X factor for a Boston side that harbors ambitions of a deep postseason run. (Last week: 1-1-1)
2St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 2
St. Louis Blues (52-19-7)
Remember what I wrote last week about the Blues being vulnerable? Their offense has gone into a deep funk, scoring just seven goals during the Blues' past five games while they've been shut out twice in their past four. Coach Ken Hitchcock cited his team's lack of offensive energy. Perhaps a game against the defensively inept Capitals on Tuesday will get the Blues going again. (Last week: 2-2-0)
3San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 5
San Jose Sharks (49-21-9)
They finish the season against the Ducks, Avs and Coyotes, which might be the best-case scenario as the Sharks try to capture the Pacific Division. San Jose has been lousy this season against bad teams, getting swept by the Sabres, Hurricanes and, after Saturday's distracted effort, the Predators. But the Sharks have been able to ramp up their intensity against top teams. They proved that again last week with a 2-1 win over the Kings that should give them some confidence if they end up with that match-up in the first round. (Last week: 2-1-0)
4Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 3
West Coast fans who are tired of seeing their teams or favorite players get the short end of the attention stick from the pointy-headed Eastern media elite have to be amazed to by all the Anze Kopitar buzz lately. He's not just the center of Selke Trophy talk, he's actually getting some MVP props as well. He won't win that one, but the Selke would be a nice validation of the all-around excellence he's displayed for anyone who has been watching him during the past few years. (Last week: 1-2-0)
5Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 6
It's hard to find anyone who believes the Avs will survive their impending first round series with the Blackhawks. The naysayers point to inexperience or lousy advanced stats or a defense that puts too much pressure on Vezina Trophy candidate Semyon Varlamov. And maybe out of all those pressure points, one will prove to be the Avs' downfall ... but I can't figure out why everyone is in such a hurry to bury a team that's on a 6-0-1 roll heading into the season's final week. I've had doubts over the course of the season, but when a team has a chance to capture the Presidents' Trophy, maybe it deserves a little more respect. (Last week: 3-0-1)
6Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 10
Just when everyone started asking questions about them, the Hawks are showing that they can still get it done. Tough wins over Minnesota, Columbus and St. Louis impressively came without Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane in the lineup. Coach Joel Quenneville praised a "workmanlike" effort that saw Chicago tighten up in its own zone while playing a harder, north/south-style game -- basically the style that's earned them two Stanley Cups in the past four years. (Last week: 3-0-0)
7Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 4
Anaheim Ducks (51-20-8)
Jonas Hiller isn't making things easy for coach Bruce Boudreau. The veteran stopper should be the go-to guy down the stretch as the Ducks try to firm up their grasp on top spot in the Pacific, but he's won just six of his past 18 decisions, leading Boudreau to say Hiller is "really lacking in confidence." Ouch. Fortunately, John Gibson gives him an interesting option. Arguably the best prospect outside the NHL until he made his debut Monday night, Gibson lived up to the hype with an 18-save shutout of the Canucks. (Last week: 2-2-0)
8Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 7
It's hard to complain when a team has earned 10 wins in its past 12 games, but there are two sides to those high-scoring victories over Detroit and Ottawa. The Habs went down 3-0 early in the first period against the Senators before ripping off seven straight tallies on the way to a 7-4 win. Then they managed to blow a 3-0 third period lead against the Red Wings before rallying late for the win. You have to admire the Habs' resilience, but, man, that inconsistency will be fatal if it continues beyond this week. (Last week: 2-1-0)
9Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 9
The ticket buyers in Denver probably weren't too thrilled, but the decision to rest what seemed like half the team for Sunday's game against the Avs was a savvy call by coach Dan Bylsma. His squad looked tired in its 4-0 loss to the Wild on Saturday, so mixing in an extra day of rest for Crosby, Kunitz and company made good sense. The fact that the remaining troops pulled off one of their best wins (3-2 in a shootout) of the season made Bylsma look even better. (Last week: 2-2-0)
10Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 11
Minnesota Wild (41-26-12)
A fourth-round pick. That's it. That's all the Wild had to give up to acquire Ilya Bryzgalov, the goalie who is on the verge of not just salvaging their season but making some postseason noise for perennially disappointing Minnesota. While Zach Parise deserves plenty of love for his remarkable effort during the past few weeks, Bryz is giving the Wild a chance to win every night. He's thriving behind their defensive system, putting up a pair of shutouts over Pittsburgh and Winnipeg last week to run his mark with the Wild to 6-0-3 with a 1.67 GAA and 9.29 save percentage. With numbers like those, bears in the woods will be scared of him. (Last week: 2-0-1)
11New York Rangers
Last Week: 14
Now that they have a playoff spot locked up, the last week of the season is all about securing home ice -- which is critical since their presumed first round opponents (the Flyers) haven't won at MSG since 2011. Then again, the Blueshirts have been pretty good on the road, too, winning a league-high/franchise-record 25 games. (Last week: 1-1-1)
12Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 15
Pavel's back, Gustav's red-hot and the Wings have been (almost) universally anointed as the team no one wants to face in the first round. It's not a good idea to look beyond that, but considering that they're healthier than they've been in ages and they're showing signs of playing the kind of detail-oriented hockey that coach Mike Babcock likes, they might just have an upset in them. (Last week: 2-1-0)
13Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 12
Maybe they were due for a letdown after clinching a playoff berth early last week, but they sure looked lifeless while losing their two games since by a combined score of 9-3. Slow starts are really killing the Bolts -- they were down 3-0 to Dallas almost before everyone was seated on Saturday -- and goalie Ben Bishop has been less than sharp. He's lost three of his last four outings and needs to get his game on track this week if the Bolts are to have a chance against the red-hot Canadiens when the playoffs start next week. (Last week: 1-2-0)
14Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 8
That four-game losing streak probably put an end to Craig Berube's slight Adams Award hopes while allowing the Blue Jackets to creep to within two points of Philly's third place standing in the Metro Division. The Flyers' offense went silent, shut out for seven periods before showing signs of life against the Bruins, but their defense continues to be the biggest concern. They keep revealing themselves as too slow to get to the puck, or an open man in front of their opponent's net. That's going to catch up with up with them in the postseason. (Last week: 1-2-1)
15Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 16
The stats nerds will tell you that hits are bad because they indicate a team that is chasing possession, but being physical seems to be working for the Jackets. According to a team release, they've delivered a franchise-record 2,486 hits this season (through Sunday's action) while winning 40 games, just one shy of the team mark. They're also only six goals shy of the franchise best (220) and are challenging Philly for third spot in the Metro. Guess hitting isn't so bad after all. (Last week: 2-1-1)
16Dallas Stars
Last Week: 17
Dallas Stars (38-29-11)
Forget their 5-0 thrashing of the Capitals or impressive 5-2 dismantling of a very good Tampa team. The Stars dropped two very winnable games last week to non-playoff teams, including a devastating 3-2 defeat in Florida on Sunday that featured a blown 2-0 lead. At any other time of the year, a 2-2 road trip would be perfectly acceptable, but with a playoff spot on the line, and with the opponents they have coming up (Jackets, Blue, Coyotes), their inconsistency could come back to haunt them. (Last week: 2-2-0)
17Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 13
Phoenix Coyotes (36-28-14)
Recall the momentum they had after taking five of six points on an East Coast road swing in late March? Yeah, it's gone. Four straight losses have Phoenix in free fall, and while the Yotes have managed to pick up two loser points, they were scant consolation considering that they came in games against non-playoff teams (Winnipeg and Edmonton). If this squad is going to snap out of it, it needs something from the big guns. Mike Ribiero has one goal in his past 21 games. Shane Doan has two in 16 and Radim Vrbata has one in 13. Could those three guys have gone cold at a worse time? (Last week: 0-1-2)
18New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 20
A seven-game point streak had Devils fans likening their long shot to Lloyd Christmas's hopes of landing Mary Swanson in Dumb and Dumber, but any real chance the team had of making the playoffs ended with Monday night's 1-0 loss to the Flames. Much will (and should) be made of the Devils' failure to steal the second point in shootouts all season long, but it was their inability to score during the 65 minutes of real hockey that submarined their hopes. When you average just 2.42 goals per game (25th in the league), you're not doing enough to win on a consistent basis. (Last week: 2-1-1)
19Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 19
Winnipeg Jets (33-35-10)
Evander Kane should be part of the future solution in Winnipeg. Instead, it looks like he'll be part of the trash that gets moved to the curb after the Jets' regular season finale. Kane was benched on Saturday for breaking team rules, then spent Monday appearing entirely unhumbled by the experience. If it wasn't before, it is clear now that he's pulling in his own direction, and that's a situation this team would be better off without. (Last week: 2-2-0)
20Washington Capitals
Last Week: 18
Their five-game losing streak finally came to an end on Long Island during the weekend, but not before it smothered the life from Washington's playoff dreams. Fans with any affinity for this group had better get a good look before the end of this week. Chances are the organization will sport a considerably different appearance next season, and if the goal is to detoxify this mix, those changes need to start in the front office. (Last week: 2-2-0)
21Calgary Flames
Last Week: 23
Calgary Flames (34-38-7)
Amazing how poorly this season went and yet how few complaints you'll hear from Calgary's fans. There wasn't a lot of talent on this team, but there weren't many nights off, either. This group gave a good account of itself under coach Bob Hartley, who just has to be hoping for a few more horses to ride next season. (Last week: 3-1-0)
22Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 21
Ottawa Senators (33-31-14)
Ottawa's playoff hopes will likely be officially put to rest on Tuesday night, and Clarke MacArthur knows why. "There's 10 games where we had two- and three-goal leads and we just weren't able to handle it and finish games," he told The Ottawa Sun. The Sens blew another one of them on Saturday, allowing Montreal to score seven straight after jumping to a 3-0 lead early in the first period. It takes an especially fragile team to collapse so completely so frequently, but word is that coach Paul MacLean won't be held accountable for that frailty. If that's the case, expect a significant player move (or two) over the summer to alter the chemistry. (Last week: 1-2-0)
23Nashville Predators
Last Week: 25
While everyone is focusing on the Stars and Coyotes, the Preds are quietly playing some of their best hockey of the season. They knocked off the Ducks and Sharks on the road to run their winning streak to three games and keep their slim playoff hopes alive, but now face two must-win games in Dallas and Phoenix to close out the road trip. Ah, who are we kiddin'? They're toast and if anyone in the organization is smart, they'll make the decision to move on without GM David Poile and coach Barry Trotz first thing Monday morning. Both are good hockey men who'd quickly find work elsewhere, but they've had enough time to try to make Nashville more successful than it has been. It's time to let someone else try to steer this ship away from the rocks. (Last week: 2-0-0)
24Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 22
Nice spoiler win over the Stars on Thursday, but that's small consolation for another season that went off the tracks way too soon. Reports are circulating that coach Kirk Muller is likely to lose his job as a result. That's a tough break, but probably the right move. If Ron Francis is going to take over as GM as rumored, he deserves the chance to choose his own man behind the bench. (Last week: 2-1-0)
25Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 24
Vancouver's dreams of a playoff berth ended on Monday night in fitting fashion, with the team unable to generate many serious chances in a 3-0 loss to Anaheim. With their season on the line, the Canucks managed six shots in the first period and three in the second, illustrating clearly how little fight they had in them. Now they have three games left to score at least 10 goals if they hope to avoid setting a new franchise mark for fewest tallies in a non-lockout season ... and then they'll have to wait to see who in the room or up in the front office survives this debacle. (Last week: 1-2-0)
26New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
So where were these Isles all year? Oh yeah, in the minors. With seemingly half the roster nursing injuries of some kind, New York is 6-2-2 in its past 10 games, now having iced a grand total of 12 rookies this season. The Isles are getting good miles out of their AHL Bridgeport kids, many of whom are getting their one-and-only shot at The Show. Nice to see winger Brett Gallant, 25, get the call. He's a tough one who punches way above his weight. (Last week: 2-1-1)
27Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 27
Edmonton Oilers (28-42-9)
Nice week for Taylor Hall, who racked up two goals and seven assists in four games on the way to being named the NHL's First Star of the Week. The outburst gave him a career-best 77 points this season and moved him into the top spot among all left wingers. Smart move by Dallas Eakins to reunite him with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle on the top line. That's something whoever calls the shots next season might want to remember. (Last week: 2-2-0)
28Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 30
It was March 13 -- less than one month ago -- that the Leafs were second in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference. Since then, they've abandoned all pretense of defensive awareness, lost any ability to control play along the boards, and, as a result, find themselves looking at a massive summer overhaul rather than a playoff berth. Hard to believe that coach Randy Carlyle will survive the inevitable purge, but GM Dave Nonis is likely safe. Not sure that's fair, given that he's the one who bought the groceries, but such is the grim reality facing Toronto fans. (Last week: 2-1-0)
29Florida Panthers
Last Week: 28
Their come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Stars on Sunday was a nice treat for the home fans who witnessed a lot of bad hockey this season, but it was a last gasp effort from a team that has lost 11 of its last 15 and looks on most nights like it can't wait for the season to be over. (Last week: 1-2-0)
30Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 29
Buffalo Sabres (21-48-9)
As bad as this team is -- and it truly is awful -- the Sabres would probably have more to show for themselves than just two wins in their past 16 games if not for a catastrophic string of injuries. At last check there were 13 (!) players on the sidelines, with defensemen Tyler Myers, Chad Ruhwedel and Christian Ehrhoff, and goaltender Nathan Lieuwen the latest to seek high-quality medical care. Probably just as well. You don't want to do anything to jeopardize Buffalo's odds of winning the first-overall pick. (Last week: 1-3-0)

Notable rise: Chicago Blackhawks (10 to 6)
Notable fall: Philadelphia Flyers (8 to 14)

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