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  • Our 2016-17 prediction of a Predators-Lightning Stanley Cup Final might have a been a season too early.
By Jeremy Fuchs
March 12, 2018

Before the 2016-17 season, SI picked Tampa Bay and Nashville to make the Stanley Cup Final. We got one of those right, and had Bolts forward Steven Stamkos stayed healthy, we might have had both.

For 2017-18, we called on Washington and Dallas to break up Pittsburgh's reign. The jury is still out on that prediction, but it looks like we maybe-might-have-possibly been a year too early on a Predators-Lightning matchup for the Cup as both are looking good as we hit the home stretch. The threats to that potential Final all have flaws: Boston is banged up, Vegas and Winnipeg are inexperienced, and Toronto's defense is suspect. Pittsburgh has underperformed all season.

Anything can happen in the playoffs, but a meeting between the Bolts and Preds for the whole darn thing is getting harder to argue against.

Here's how we see teams stacking up in the NHL, from 31-1 (stats and records through Monday's games):

31. Arizona Coyotes
Last week: 31 (-)
Record: 22-35-11

At 4-1-1 so far, March has the makings to be their best month yet!

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30. Buffalo Sabres
Last week: 30 (-)
Record: 22-35-12

Good to see continued fight on a team that, if the rebuild goes right, has a solid foundation in place.

29. Ottawa Senators
Last week: 29 (-)
Record: 24-33-11

The Sens are showing some life with good wins against Vegas and Dallas, but also showing that they've been bad all year with losses to Arizona and Buffalo.

28. Vancouver Canucks
Last week: 28 (-)
Record: 25-36-9

Losing Brock Boeser (back injury) is a huge blow. He was really the only thing worth watching for Vancouver this season.

27. Montreal Canadiens
Last week: 26 (-1)
Record: 25-32-12

There’s just not enough going on. At times the Habs are competitive, at times… nowhere close.

26. Detroit Red Wings
Last week: 23 (-3)
Record: 26-32-11

They’re falling off and that's to be expected with some of the trades. To see Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin continue to play well is a good sign.

25. Edmonton Oilers
Last week: 27 (+2)
Record: 30-34-4

The Oilers are playing better as of late, but it's still just Connor McDavid carrying the load.

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24. New York Rangers
Last week: 25 (+1)
Record: 31-32-7

They were exposed the last few games against good teams in Tampa Bay and Winnipeg. The fact that the Rangers aren’t terrible, though, is promising.

23. New York Islanders
Last week: 22 (-1)
Record: 30-29-10

The lack of defense is criminal, especially on a team that has a top-10 offense.

22. Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 24 (+2)
Record: 30-32-8

How do you rebuild a team that has so many big-money long-term contracts? Even with a cap ceiling increase coming, not sure you can. Hope someone is willing to take on some cash…

21. Carolina Hurricanes
Last week: 21 (-)
Record: 30-28-11

It’s been a while since the Hurricanes have earned a win against a top-tier team. They can compete with the wild card clubs, but that's about it for now.

20. St. Louis Blues
Last week: 18 (-2)
Record: 37-27-5

Injuries happen, but this is one of the worst collapses in recent memory. From legit Cup contenders to out of the playoff picture. Remarkable.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last week: 19 (-)
Record: 37-28-5

The Jackets have scored at least four goals in four of their last five games and won 'em all in that span. Not bad a for a team that has had trouble finding the net all season. It’s probably time to start talking about Seth Jones’s quietly stellar year.

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18. Florida Panthers
Last week: 20 (+2)
Record: 34-26-7

They provided Tampa Bay with a stiff challenge and are playing some of the best hockey in the league. They'll keep creeping higher.

17. Calgary Flames
Last week: 17 (-)
Record: 34-26-10

Mike Smith is finally back in the crease for the Flames, just in time to claw their way into a wild card spot—and maybe even higher.

16. New Jersey Devils
Last week: 14 (-2)
Record: 35-26-8

MVP candidate Taylor Hall can't score every game. With goose eggs across the board since coming over at the trade deadline, it’s time for Michael Grabner to start chipping in, too.

15. Colorado Avalanche
Last week: 16 (+1)
Record: 36-24-8

They’re scuffling a bit here, and but at least they beat Arizona.

14. Philadelphia Flyers
Last week: 10 (-4)
Record: 35-24-11

So much for Petr Mrazek stabilizing things. The Flyers’ losing streak was at five straight before a big win against Winnipeg. Still, something needs to change.

13. Los Angeles Kings
Last week: 11 (-2)
Record: 38-26-5

Credit to deadline acquisition Dion Phaneuf for playing big minutes and playing well at this stage of his career. The 32-year-old blueliner might get eaten up during the postseason, though.

12. Dallas Stars
Last week: 12 (-)
Record: 38-25-6

The Stars’ recent inability to score goals could be an even bigger problem if it’s not figured out come playoff time.

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11. Anaheim Ducks
Last week: 15 (+4)
Record: 34-24-12

They’re sneaky hot. The deadline approach was smart: the didn't do anything crazy and added some solid depth, which is so important this time of year.

10. Washington Capitals
Last week: 9 (-1)
Record: 39-23-7

Braden Holtby is getting a much-needed rest while Philipp Grubauer has been a steadying force in the Capitals’ net. It’s hard to think Grubauer steals the No. 1 job, but his strong play is a nice insurance plan for the stretch run.

9. San Jose Sharks
Last week: 8 (-1)
Record: 37-23-9

Evander Kane has transitioned nicely into the Sharks’ lineup, and the goals will come, too. He's given them a little pop.

8. Minnesota Wild
Last week: 7 (-1)
Record: 39-23-7

It’s a little hard to tell if Minnesota is really good, or is good at beating up on mediocre teams. The guess here is the latter.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last week: 13 (+6)
Record: 40-26-4

Tristan Jarry has played well while the Pens wait for Matt Murray to get back. The Toronto loss showed that Jarry might not be able to carry a postseason run, though.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last week: 5 (-1)
Record: 40-22-7

Can they challenge Tampa Bay? On paper, sure. Is the defense deep enough? That's to be debated.

5. Winnipeg Jets
Last week: 6 (+1)
Record: 41-18-10

Patrik Laine has hit ridiculous mode in his second NHL season. A fifty-goal campaign might be on the horizon. Paul Stastny has taken to Winnipeg nicely.

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4. Vegas Golden Knights
Last week: 3 (-1)
Record: 45-19-5

The Knights have hit their first little slide, and even that's only relative. One thing of note: the last time Vegas beat a truly top team was February 1 against Winnipeg.

3. Boston Bruins
Last week: 4 (+1)
Record: 43-16-8

Even with Patrice Bergeron on the sidelines, Brad Marchand has continued to produce. That five point outing against Detroit was sublime. Having Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy rested down the stretch will be helpful, but they’ll have to get back to speed quickly upon return.

2. Nashville Predators
Last week: 2(-)
Record: 44-14-10

There's a viable argument to be made that the Preds are the best team in hockey, and they’re already making it a difficult decision atop the NHL Power Rankings. Their depth is just incredible.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last week: 1 (-)
Record: 48-17-4

The Bolts are 9-0-1 in their last 10, and big deadline get Ryan McDonagh has only played once. Boston is a challenger as the top team in the East right now, but Tampa Bay looks and feels like the more dangerous team.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)