NHL Power Rankings: Lightning stay on top as Avalanche, Panthers make big jumps

It's March, which means there's only about a month left to the 2017-18 NHL regular season.

Before you even try to answer the question that's on all of our minds -- Where did the time go? -- you'll want to unleash another slow clap for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who kicked off another month atop the standings and just got a little closer to reeling in the Presidents' Trophy. Regular-season titles are nothing to get crazy about (you know what we're talking about, right, Washington Capitals?), but it's pretty incredible that the Lightning have either been No. 1 or darn close to it from start to finish this season, especially since they came into 2017-18 with added pressure for a return to the playoffs.

It should be no surprise, then, that Tampa Bay remains the top team in our latest edition of the NHL Power Rankings, even if the defending Western Conference champion Nashville Predators are one of our favorites entering playoff season.

The Lightning staying put is not indicative of our entire pecking order, though, because this week had more movers than usual, especially in that middle-of-the-road pack made up of wild-card hopefuls. Among the best risers: the Colorado Avalanche, who continue to defy expectations thanks to Nathan MacKinnon's MVP-caliber scoring; and the Florida Panthers, who suddenly find themselves in playoff contention under the youthful and spirited guidance of rookie coach Bob Boughner.

Biggest Movers
5 Avalanche
5 Flames
1 Lightning It's not easy to stay this good for this long, but their biggest names keep coming through. --24-7
2 Predators Part of us really wants to throw them up top, because they can be even better come playoff time. 120-10
3 Bruins If they can endure these untimely injuries, they can beat anyone. 117-10
4 Golden Knights It would've been fun to see Marc-Andre Fleury vs. the Penguins early in the playoffs. 218-14
5 Jets Between Patrik Laine, Paul Stastny and Connor Hellebuyck, they have a serious playoff trio. --19-9
6 Maple Leafs We know the Capitals still have their number. --21-9
7 Capitals As long as Alex Ovechkin keeps doing what he's doing, they'll be a lock out of the Metro. 418-9
8 Flyers Streaks are the name of the game for Philly. But a complete tailspin now would be brutal. 112-13
9 Penguins Not the best week for them, but they'll be dangerous once they figure out their new lineups. 113-11
10 Wild Their numbers in the standings are eerily similar to those of the Capitals -- awesome at home, so-so elsewhere, and boom or bust. --16-12
11 Stars They have heroics. Do they have the strength to go deep in the playoffs? 216-12
12 Sharks What they really need is their defense to return to early-season form. --16-11
13 Avalanche How many times, post-Matt Duchene trade, have we ruled them out only to watch Nathan MacKinnon make them fly? 517-9
14 Ducks This feels too high, but that's because of their rough start. The penalty kill has been working. 117-11
15 Panthers Yeah, baby. Who said this team was a year away? These guys are having fun, and Evgenii Dadonov racking up goals doesn't hurt, either. 511-12
16 Kings If they could beat anyone other than Las Vegas, maybe we would think they're back to their October selves. 111-19
17 Devils It could get worse. A six-game road trip is up next. 310-13
18 Flames They're one of the best mediocre teams when it comes to away games. 520-10
19 Blues This team is folding faster than a lawn chair. And it could get even uglier if the motivation level doesn't take a sharp upturn. 311-14
20 Blue Jackets John Tortorella is going to need time to let his new veterans right the ship. 116-12
21 Hurricanes Another year of just not having enough to get over the hump. 113-12
22 Rangers Post-fire sale, at least they can beat up on the little guys! 414-13
23 Blackhawks How weird is it to enter the final stretch of the season with Chicago all but irrelevant? --10-18
24 Islanders Wait, so is it appropriate to start talking about their big contract situations (again) yet? 314-12
25 Red Wings Motown fans probably can't wait to get this thing over with and go full throttle on the rebuild. 114-14
26 Canadiens Antti Niemi turned out to be the surprise gem of the second half of the season. 115-11
27 Oilers They are the absolute polar opposite of opportunistic. 217-12
28 Canucks Even after unloading Thomas Vanek, it feels weird that they aren't in full-on restock mode after the deadline. --14-16
29 Coyotes They didn't get the memo about rolling over late in the season. 113-14
30 Senators Erik Karlsson wanted to stay, but how long will that be the case? 113-15
31 Sabres Remember when Jason Botterill becoming GM made them sleeper playoff candidates? Us, too. --18-9
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