NHL Power Rankings: Red-hot Blackhawks new No. 1 as slumping Wild drop again
Capitals are first team to earn a playoff berth, but the Blackhawks are the hottest of the NHL's contenders
The time has finally come.
The Washington Capitals after their win over the Tampa Bay Lightning over the weekend. But the Caps -- on the heels of earning their 100th point of the season, go figure -- can no longer be heralded as the most dominant of the league’s contenders as the playoffs inch closer.
Their prominence cannot be denied and they remain the class of a tightly contested Eastern Conference. But the gap between them and documented champions of the postseason (see: Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins) has been all but erased.
Chicago, with eight wins in its last 10 games entering March 19 and a single-digit loss total on the year at home, is surging toward another run at the Stanley Cup. The Caps, Pens and 100-point Columbus Blue Jackets, meanwhile, help round out the NHL’s top five playoff-bound squads along with a balanced, albeit slumping, Minnesota Wild team:
||Finally, a new king. They weren't the first team to earn a 2016-17 playoff berth, but they're the hottest of the NHL's top contenders and they have the resume to back up postseason aspirations.||1||10-8|
||Sorry, Caps fans. There's little reason to fret seeing as though Washington reeled in point No. 100 and is locked up for a third straight playoff run. But the team's March performance hasn't been nearly as convincing as that of Chicago.||1||12-10|
||You could argue they deserve an even higher spot, even if they were *supposed* to dominate the home stretch of their schedule. Sidney Crosby and the Pens offense is still on fire.||--||11-9|
||In between all the hubris of a Caps playoff berth and the Blackhawks' winning streak, Columbus has pieced together an impressive 10-game stand with a goal differential comparable to Washington's.||1||14-7|
||Somebody better wake up in Minnesota. The Wild are still incredibly balanced but are in danger of losing every ounce of momentum they had earlier in the year.||1||10-8|
||If the defense keeps on trucking forward, San Jose should be able to right itself before the real tests get underway.||--||11-8|
||Without Henrik Lundqvist, they've been OK so far. If only they could win regularly at home.||--||11-9|
||Through Claude Julien's first 13 games back atop the Habs' staff: 9-4 record, 18 points for Montreal.||--||8-12|
||Don't tell the Flames they weren't considered surefire contenders earlier this year. Calgary continues to roll as maybe the most consistent winner heading into the postseason.||1||12-8|
||Finishing the year with mostly road games should work to the advantage of Ottawa (20-12 in away contests).||1||8-6|
||A 2-1 edging of the Sharks was an important confidence builder for the Ducks. Catch them in Anaheim and they're tough to beat.||1||10-8|
||Just when you might have forgotten about the Oilers, they unleash a couple of seven-goal games. The offense clearly warrants attention here.||1||8-12|
||Victim to one of those seven-goal Oilers wins, Boston is still a dark-horse contender entering the playoff picture. Bruce Cassidy's bunch is probably the top of the middle-of-the-bunch playoff hopefuls.||--||9-7|
||We're all still waiting to see if the Predators are for real.||--||13-6|
||They've stepped up and couldn't have done so at a better time. With what should be an easy finish to the year, they're in great position to close with dominance.||2||16-5|
||After falling 2-1 to the Blackhawks, they need a big outing vs. Boston to rekindle their fire.||--||14-8|
||Things aren't going as swell for Doug Weight anymore. Even with John Tavares racking up the points.||2||12-7|
||Can they get their team-wide health up to par in time for a last-minute run?||--||16-3|
||Their roller coaster of a season has flashed elite potential and utter disappointment. There's probably been a little too much of the latter.||--||12-8|
||The big road streak continues to fade into the background.||1||8-11|
||Routing the Pens was probably tons of fun, but letting the Devils -- yes, the Devils -- spoil that with a rout of their own was classic 2016-17 Flyers material.||1||8-9|
||Lasting 10 rounds in a shootout with the Ducks was just as impressive as beating Anaheim.||--||5-13|
||They keep scoring goals but they also keep allowing too many. Hat tip to them for topping the Wild, though.||--||13-5|
||A 5-2-3 stretch, with a win over Nashville, has the Canes finishing on a good note as they prepare for their off-season restocking.||1||9-7|
||Good for them, ending a historic no-playoff campaign with some solid victories.||1||10-9|
||Staying within two of the Flames was a surprise for a team that all but rolled over in blowout losses earlier in the week.||1||11-10|
||The goal differential nearing the negative-50s isn't scaring anyone.||3||11-8|
||Hey, so maybe they can score. Just not enough and not often enough.||--||12-5|
||They may very well lower the bar for away-game records as they embark on a five-game trip.||--||5-16|
||They entered Sunday's clash with Chicago still in search of their 10th road win of the year.||--||11-8|
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