And then there were two.
Unclaimed playoff spots, that is. Thursday saw Edmonton and Colorado grab the last two Western Conference playoff spots.
Two vacancies remain in the East, with Montreal a lock to claim one of them. That leaves Atlanta and Tampa Bay to fight it out for the eighth spot.
Then we can focus our attention on a Stanley Cup playoff tournament two years in the making. But first, our last full-field Power Rankings of the season.
(Records and rankings through Thursday, April 13.)
1. Detroit Red Wings (56-15-8; Previous: 1) – The Red Wings can relax a bit after clinching the Presidents' Trophy. Heck, Steve Yzerman finally got his night off Thursday and Niklas Lidstrom only played 20 minutes. Detroit still put a 7-3 beating on the Blackhawks.
2. Ottawa Senators (51-20-9; Previous: 2) – Getting defensemen Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara back is big. If Martin Havlat comes back Saturday and Chris Phillips returns for the playoffs as planned, that will help. But Dominik Hasek's status is still shrouded in mystery, which has Ottawa fans dwelling on failures of playoffs past.
3. Dallas Stars (52-22-5; Previous: 3) – Dallas hasn't had much to play for in the last few weeks and center Mike Modano got dinged, but the Stars continue to grind out wins. Good to see Modano get back in the lineup for Tuesday's win, a club-record 52nd of the season.
4. New Jersey Devils (44-27-9; Previous: 10) – The rest of the conference has to be horrified by Martin Brodeur's play of late. His nine-game win streak includes victories over Ottawa, Buffalo, Philadelphia (twice), Carolina and the Rangers.
5. Carolina Hurricanes (51-21-7; Previous: 4) – With a game in hand over Ottawa and two home games to the Sens' none, the Hurricanes still have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the East. What a turnaround after being one of the worst offensive teams in the league the past two seasons.
6. Calgary Flames (46-24-10; Previous: 8) – Old conventional wisdom: Calgary can't contend without getting Jarome Iginla a legitimate No. 1 center. New conventional wisdom: You can't beat the Flames if you can't get the puck past Miikka Kiprusoff.
7. Buffalo Sabres (47-23-6; Previous: 6) – Just when coach Lindy Ruff announces that it might not be Miller Time in the playoffs after all, goalie Ryan Miller responds with his best back-to-back starts since early February. The Sabres are getting well at the right time.
8. New York Rangers (44-24-12; Previous: 5) – New York's reward if it holds off the red-hot Devils and wins the Atlantic Division? If the season ended today, it's a first-round matchup against the red-hot Devils.
9. Philadelphia Flyers (43-25-11; Previous: 6) – The Flyers were happy to see captain Keith Primeau back on the ice for practice Monday, but it was also a sobering reminder of exactly how much his leadership is missed.
10. San Jose Sharks (43-26-11; Previous: 15) – In just his 10th game as a professional Thursday, defenseman Matt Carle logged 7:12 in power-play ice time and scored the game-winning goal. The Hobey Baker winner could give San Jose's special teams a shot in the arm in the playoffs.
11. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (42-26-12; Previous: 9) – Both teams have clinched a playoff berth, but Saturday's game at San Jose should be plenty intense. The winner of the race for fifth in the conference gets the Vokoun-less Predators. The loser? Miikka Kiprusoff.
12. Montreal Canadiens (42-29-9; Previous: 12) – Montreal will be one of the last teams in the East to clinch a playoff berth. It would have happened a lot sooner had it not been for that 4-6-4 stretch when Alexei Kovalev was on the shelf.
13. Colorado Avalanche (43-29-8; Previous: 11) – Alex Tanguay returned to the lineup Tuesday, but it was the first start for Jose Theodore that everyone was watching. The final box score wasn't kind – he would allow four goals on just 25 shots – but he made some big saves early when Colorado was two men down.
14. Nashville Predators (47-25-8; Previous: 13) – Chris Mason has built a wall in front of the Nashville net. In his last four starts, all wins, the backup has allowed a total of three goals. Still, it's hard to envision a deep run into the playoffs without Tomas Vokoun.
15. Edmonton Oilers (40-28-13; Previous: 16) – Dwayne Roloson's best stretch of play as an Oiler has been spoiled by a power outage on offense. Edmonton scored a total of two goals in three losses on its four-game road trip, then needed a late Ales Hemsky goal Thursday to sneak out a 2-1 win over Anaheim.
16. Tampa Bay Lightning (42-32-5); Previous 14) – Two must-win games, two six-goal meltdowns. If Tampa Bay does sneak into the playoffs, its inconsistent goalie play will make it a short stay.
17. Atlanta Thrashers (40-32-7; Previous: 19) – After all those goalie problems to start the season, Atlanta still finds itself in the thick of the playoff chase with three games left. The Thrashers get three non-playoff teams to close the schedule while Tampa Bay has its hands full with Carolina on back-to-back nights.
18. Vancouver Canucks (41-32-8; Previous: 17) – What started with an 8-1-1 streak out of the gate in October ended Thursday when San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo scored an empty-net goal. Just call Vancouver the anti-Carolina. Huge disappointment.
19. Toronto Maple Leafs (39-32-8; Previous: 18) – This could be a dangerous team to face in the playoffs. Too bad they're not going to make it.
20. Florida Panthers (36-34-10; Previous: 20) – Roberto Luongo once again reiterated his desire to sign a long-term deal with Florida. He wanted proof that the Panthers were serious about being a playoff team, and their post-Olympic play combined with the signings of Olli Jokinen and Chris Gratton seems to be the proof he needed.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets (33-42-4; Previous: 22) – Nice run for center Mark Hartigan, who has six goals in Columbus' last eight games. He scored the game-winner Thursday as the Jackets snapped a three-game losing streak.
23. Minnesota Wild (36-34-7; Previous: 23) – Josh Harding is heading to the playoffs, anyway. The Minnesota goalie got a shutout Tuesday in his second NHL start. He'll head back to the minors for the AHL playoffs.
24. New York Islanders (35-38-6; Previous: 26) – Tuesday's win over the Rangers will be even sweeter if the loss winds up costing New York the Atlantic Division crown.
25. Boston Bruins (29-36-16; Previous: 24) – It could have been a different story had Boston won the close ones. The Bruins will finish the season with the most overtime losses in the NHL.
28. Pittsburgh Penguins (21-45-13; Previous: 28) – Rookie Sidney Crosby is now just three points shy of 100 with three games remaining. Could he and super-prospect Evgeni Malkin combine for 200 points next season?
- Tampa Bay
- San Jose