Welcome to the final installment of our 2014-15 NHL Power Rankings. The dust of a furious final Saturday of the regular season has settled and we are left with our 16 playoff contestants who will battle for valuable prizes that you just can't buy in any store. This field is a decidedly mixed bag: a few powerhouses, a couple of old powers wheezing their way into the trenches, a handful of tough customers, some legit dark horses, a couple of almost metaphysical revival acts, and a sprinkling of clubs that will likely be dusting theirs off and heading for the first tee in fairly short order.
NOTE:Unlike during the regular season when our rankings were compiled by consensus among three scribes who one gentle reader accused of having a taste for bourbon, we've left the task of lighting your ire this time to the inimitable Allan Muir, the more sober-sided of the three. Hailing from the Great White North, he has a passing familiarity with the sport. Thus he has carefully weighted each playoff team according the periodic chart that hangs in his study and a quick consultation with his antique analytics abacus. But seriously, these rankings are based on momentum, overall talent, and health entering the tournament, with a twist of x factor thrown in. And so, without further ado, here's how the postseason field stacks up:
1. New York Rangers
With a 4–2 victory over Washington in their season finale the Rangers set single-season franchise records in both wins (53) and points (113), establishing themselves as the clear Cup favorites heading into the playoffs. Rookie winger Kevin Hayes was a beast down the stretch, leading the team with 13 points over the season’s final five weeks despite averaging fewer than 13 minutes of ice time per game.
2. Ottawa Senators
Maybe the Sens left it all on the table with that remarkable 21-3-3 run. Maybe Andrew (Hamburglar) Hammond exhausted a lifetime supply of fortunate bounces while opening his career 20-1-2 with a .941 save percentage, 1.79 GAA and three shutouts. Maybe the inexperience of rookie sensation Mark Stone (11-14-25 since March 1) will finally catch up to him. Or maybe Ottawa is a team of destiny and the one club no one wants to run up against in the first round. I’m betting on the latter.
3. Minnesota Wild
Despite having their record-setting 12-game road win streak snapped in the regular season finale, Minnesota finished as one of the league’s hottest teams, going 28-9-3 since Jan. 15. While goalie Devan Dubnyk was the game changer, the Wild is no one-man team. In fact, it’s the depth and speed across their four forward lines that sets them up as a viable option to emerge from the West.
4. St. Louis Blues
There’s something to be said for wearing the crown in a division that featured four 100-point teams. Even more for entering the playoffs healthy. The Blues got Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen back for the season finale and look to be 100% heading into their first-round meeting with the Wild. Still no answer though to the prevailing question: Who starts in net? Brian Elliott gave up two goals on 25 shots in the their last game, but that was coming off four sub-par performances. Rookie Jake Allen looks like a better bet, having allowed one goal in each of his final four starts.
5. Washington Capitals
It was a great season for Alex Ovechkin, who led the league with 53 goals and became just the third player in the post-lockout era to tally 25 power play markers in a single season. The team’s real MVP however might have been Braden Holtby, whose rapid maturation under goalie coach Mitch Korn has the Caps poised for a deep run this spring.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
A shootout victory over the Bruins on the regular season’s final day not only knocked out a potentially dangerous opponent, it gave the Bolts 50 wins for the season, the first time in franchise history they’ve reached that milestone. Their 108 points also set a new team record. But if this team is going to go down as Tampa Bay’s best ever, it will need to turn it up for the playoffs. The pressure’s on keeper Ben Bishop, who won 40 of those regular season games but has yet to claim a playoff victory.
7. Montreal Canadiens
All the numbers suggest the Habs are moments away from a Chevy Chase-style pratfall, but somehow they stayed on their feet long enough to clinch the Atlantic Division title on Saturday. Curious to see though how the Max Pacioretty situation plays out. Montreal's one true offensive weapon sat out the season’s final two games with a suspected concussion and his availability for the opening of the playoffs is up in the air. The Habs will be in tough without him.
8. Chicago Blackhawks
They finished the season with four straight losses and were just 5-7 in their last 12. The offense is sputtering and the defense is down to four reliable bodies. Still, the Hawks are the Hawks and you have to respect the work of Corey Crawford, who earned a share of his second Jennings Trophy in three seasons to cap off what may have been the best year of his career.
9. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are the Pacific Division champs for the third straight year and own home-ice advantage at least until the Stanley Cup finals after knocking off the Coyotes in their final game. They’re healthy, know how to win close games, and boast the best depth down the middle in franchise history. And they might finally have identified their go-to goalie. Frederik Anderson is 4-1 in his past five with a .928 save percentage.
10. Winnipeg Jets
That 5–1 win over the Flames in their finale moved the Jets to 99 points on the season, setting a new and well deserved franchise record. But it’s what they did during the final week—winning three of four on the strength of back-to-back-to-back shutouts from Ondrej Pavelec while bulwark blueliner Dustin Byfuglien cooled his heels for all but one of them due to his untimely cross-checking suspension—that sets them up as a team that could surprise in the postseason.
11. Nashville Predators
With a playoff berth clinched, the last six games of the season held little real significance to the Preds. Still, losing all six doesn’t offer much in the way of inspiration heading into the playoffs. Neither does winning just six out of their final 22. Pekka Rinne in net and a solid D corps give them a chance every night, but their secondary scoring has deserted them at the worst possible time.
12. Vancouver Canucks
Nice to see Radim Vrbata collect a pair of points to set a new personal best in that 6-5 win over Edmonton on Saturday night. Alex Edler also chipped in with three points for the second consecutive game. But the real eyecatchers were the Sedins. Both Daniel and Henrik added a pair, giving them 15 points between them during the team’s final four games. They could be primed for a big series.
13. Calgary Flames
I’m still trying to figure out how this group finished the season 12-6-1 after losing captain and MVP Mark Giordano. It’s a testament to the skillful coaching of Bob Hartley, who got a total buy-in of his team concept and wrung every last drop of effort out of this bunch. Gotta love those kids Gaudreau and Monahan up front.
14. New York Islanders
You realize the last time this team strung together a pair of wins was Feb. 24-27? The Isles are just 6-8-5 since then, one sign that their mental focus is not where it needs to be. Another: New York has surrendered a goal in the final 10 seconds of a period in three consecutive games. That lack of sharpness hints at a team that’s ripe to be quickly booted from the playoffs, especially by an improved club with the quick strike firepower that Washington brings.
15. Detroit Red Wings
Despite ending the season on a 3-1-1 roll, the Red Wings don’t offer much reason for hope entering the playoffs. They haven’t won consecutive games in six weeks. They’re battered and bruised up front. And their goaltending situation remains highly unstable, even after Petr Mrazek pitched a 35-save shutout against the Hurricanes in the finale. Of course, it might not matter who is between the pipes. The Wings thrive on low-event defensive hockey and a matchup against the offensively turbo-charged Lightning promises to be anything but low-event.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins
Outside of Marc-André Fleury, who ended up leading the league in shutouts after blanking Buffalo in Pittsburgh’s must-win final game, there isn’t much to like about this team heading into the playoffs. Kris Letang looks to be lost for the season, creating an unfillable gap on the blueline. The once-feared offense hasn’t scored more than three goals in 15 straight games. That 1-4-1 finish doesn’t inspire much confidence, either.