Updated March 14
First things first, after a week when much of the noise around the league was generated off the ice. On it, the playoff picture started taking a little more shape, at least at the top, where several first places appear to have been decided in the past seven days.
|Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and the Caps have hit high gear. (Getty Images)|
Meanwhile, the Red Wings in essence put a lock on the Central Division crown, as much because Chicago got distracted long enough in the Southeast to lose three games while Detroit was getting a couple of wins against non-playoff teams. And in the East, the Washington Capitals have managed to find the offensive and defensive balance, not to mention the consistency from Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin that has eluded them all season.
The Caps are riding an eight-game win streak that has separated them from Tampa Bay in the Southeast and put them in striking distance of the Eastern Conference lead.
That's a serious turnaround from a team that was among the league's most disappointing much of the season. The Sharks were in the same boat until January, but the Pacific Division lead they grabbed for the first time a couple of weeks ago remains tenuous after they dropped two shootouts in a row at home -- especially with the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars playing very good hockey lately.
Nobody is saying that about the Flyers these days. Philadelphia had the Atlantic Division all but locked up ago two weeks ago and was running neck and neck with the Canucks for first place overall. Since, then the Flyers have won only two of seven starts.
The Flyers are feeling some heat from the Penguins in their division because of it, although not as much as the Bruins in the Northeast. Boston was at the center of the hockey world's attention much of the week because of captain Zdeno Chara's controversial hit on Montreal's Max Pacioretty. But in the meantime, the Bruins have not managed a win and have seen their division lead over the Canadiens shrink to two points.
Only about a dozen games to go for everyone. The rankings through Sunday's games: