NHL Power Rankings: Red-hot Blackhawks new No. 1 as slumping Wild drop again

The time has finally come.

The Washington Capitals became the first team to clinch a playoff berth 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:

Biggest Movers
2 Blues
3 Canucks
1 Blackhawks 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
2 Capitals 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
3 Penguins 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
4 Blue Jackets 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
5 Wild 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
6 Sharks If the defense keeps on trucking forward, San Jose should be able to right itself before the real tests get underway. -- 11-8
7 Rangers Without Henrik Lundqvist, they've been OK so far. If only they could win regularly at home. -- 11-9
8 Canadiens Through Claude Julien's first 13 games back atop the Habs' staff: 9-4 record, 18 points for Montreal. -- 8-12
9 Flames 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
10 Senators Finishing the year with mostly road games should work to the advantage of Ottawa (20-12 in away contests). 1 8-6
11 Ducks 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
12 Oilers 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
13 Bruins 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
14 Predators We're all still waiting to see if the Predators are for real. -- 13-6
15 Blues 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
16 Maple Leafs After falling 2-1 to the Blackhawks, they need a big outing vs. Boston to rekindle their fire. -- 14-8
17 Islanders Things aren't going as swell for Doug Weight anymore. Even with John Tavares racking up the points. 2 12-7
18 Lightning Can they get their team-wide health up to par in time for a last-minute run? -- 16-3
19 Kings 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
20 Panthers The big road streak continues to fade into the background. 1 8-11
21 Flyers 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
22 Sabres Lasting 10 rounds in a shootout with the Ducks was just as impressive as beating Anaheim. -- 5-13
23 Jets They keep scoring goals but they also keep allowing too many. Hat tip to them for topping the Wild, though. -- 13-5
24 Hurricanes 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
25 Red Wings Good for them, ending a historic no-playoff campaign with some solid victories. 1 10-9
26 Stars 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
27 Canucks The goal differential nearing the negative-50s isn't scaring anyone. 3 11-8
28 Devils Hey, so maybe they can score. Just not enough and not often enough. -- 12-5
29 Coyotes They may very well lower the bar for away-game records as they embark on a five-game trip. -- 5-16
30 Avalanche They entered Sunday's clash with Chicago still in search of their 10th road win of the year. -- 11-8
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