After a hiatus of a couple weeks, the THW power rankings return. With the season coming to a rapid close, teams are either starting to peak in time for a Stanley Cup push, or wilt under the crucible of the postseason pressure.
Where things stand through games of March 22:
1. (1) Vancouver (47-17-9): The Canucks are an amazing plus-66 in goal differential. The next closest team is Boston at plus-41 and the Rangers and Flyers at plus-37.
2. (8) Washington (43-21-10): For once, the Capitals seem to be peaking at the right time.
3. (2) Philadelphia (44-19-9): Flyers still lead the East by a point, but have been struggling (4-3-3).
4. (5) Detroit (43-21-9): The Red Wings have battled through injury after injury. Will they have anything left for the playoffs?
5. (4) San Jose (42-23-8): The Sharks are another team that seems to be peaking at the right time for once. They may be serious Cup contenders.
6. (13) Los Angeles (41-26-6): The streaky Kings (6-2-2) are streaking toward the top once again. Can they maintain momentum this time?
7. (7) Pittsburgh (42-23-8): Sidney Crosby may be back soon – just in time for the playoffs. The Pens have done well without him.
8. (3) Boston (40-22-10): The Bruins have struggled over the last 10 games (4-3-3) and need to fix its defensive issues before the playoffs. Big showdown with Montreal Thursday night: a win all but clinches the Northeast Division
9. (10) Phoenix (40-24-11): The Coyotes are quietly making a run toward the top of the standings. Of course, no one in Phoenix is aware of this …
10. (9) Chicago (39-25-8): The Blackhawks are still battling for their playoff lives and need to stay hot down the stretch.
11. (12) Montreal (40-27-7): Despite being depleted by injury, the Canadiens are still in the hunt for a division title. The Habs have an emotional matchup with Boston Thursday.
12. (6) Tampa Bay (39-23-11): The Bolts seem to be fading down the stretch (2-4-4).
13. (14) Nashville (39-25-10): The Predators need to keep winning, as they have played more games than a majority of the other Western contenders.
14. (17) Anaheim (40-27-5): Many thought the Ducks were dead two weeks ago, but an 8-2 stretch has them in the No. 8 spot – today anyway.
15. (15) Dallas (38-25-9): The Stars are 5-2-3 over their last 10 but are still on the outside looking in for the playoffs. Welcome to the Western Conference, everyone.
16. (18) New York Rangers (40-30-4):The Rangers have turned things around with a five-game winning streak and have a six-point bulge over ninth-place Carolina with under 10 games to play.
17. (11) Calgary (37-27-11): A great second-half surge, but the Flames may have finally burned out. It will take a huge push to reach the playoffs, as Calgary has just seven games left while most of its competitors have 10 to play.
18. (21) Buffalo (36-28-9): A strong second-half surge by the Sabres has them in the playoffs right now. They still need at least 9 points in their final 9 games to make the playoffs.
19. (16) Minnesota (35-31-8): A 2-6-2 stretch has the Wild all but eliminated from the postseason.
20. (22) Toronto (33-31-10): The Leafs are playing their best hockey in years, but it might be too late, as they trail
Buffalo by 5 points.
21. (19) Carolina (34-29-10): The Hurricanes have won two straight but need to win at least 6 or 7 of their last 9 to have a real shot.
22. (23) New Jersey (34-35-4): A loss to Boston on Tuesday may have been the final dagger for the Devils, who made a valiant charge the last two-plus months.
23. (20) Columbus (33-29-11): Another disappointing season for the Blue Jackets, who looked like they were a playoff team up until a month or so ago.
24. (25) New York Islanders (29-33-12): The Isles have had a great second-half and appear to be poised to make a serious run next year. Finishing with a .500 record would be a great achievement this season.
25. (24) St. Louis (32-32-9): The Blues have been a big disappointment. Maybe next year is their year!
26. (27) Florida (29-34-10): Florida is one of the stingiest teams in the league, allowing just 199 goals. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they have scored 182.
27. (26) Atlanta (30-30-12): The Thrashers started well, but faded once 2011 hit.
28. (30) Ottawa (27-37-9): It’s been a lost year for the Senators, who are actually playing better in March (6-5).
29. (28) Colorado (28-36-8): The Avs actually challenged the Canucks for the Northwest Division lead for awhile before completing imploding over the past two months.
30. (29) Edmonton (23-40-10): Despite all the young talent, the Oilers are by far the worst team in the league. Perhaps another No. 1 pick will help.
(Steve Kendall is a freelance writer with 20 years experience covering hockey at all levels. In addition to thehockeywriters.com, he has written for The Boston Herald, The New England Hockey Journal, and The Worcester Telegram & Gazette.)