NHL Power Rankings (March 29): Playoff Races? What Playoff Races?

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IMarch 29, 2010

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 28:  Devin Setoguchi #16 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after he scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche at HP Pavilion on March 28, 2010 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As the NHL reaches its final weeks of the regular season, not only does anticipation usually build for the playoffs, but also for the last crucial games in each conference's playoff races to determine who even gets in to the postseason.

This year, however, that may not be the case.

In the Western Conference, the playoff bubble is almost non-existent. The race, if you could call it that, involves only the seventh through ninth seeds; Los Angeles, Colorado, and Calgary. Secondly, the Flames are still four points back of the Avs and Kings with fewer games remaining.

At least in the West, I think we've already determined the final eight still two weeks in advance.

Back on the East Coast, the teams are a lot tighter, with current-sixth seed Philadelphia down to the currently-10th seeded New York Rangers involved. On the other hand, though, while those to teams as well as Montreal, Boston, and Atlanta are in the mix, only two of the five are still going to miss the playoffs. Additionally, it really couldn't be labeled a "playoff race," because, at the moment, no one is truly racing —none of the teams besides Montreal have won over half their last 10 games.

These miniature battles for playoff position may captivate fans of those respective teams involved, but, frankly, there are other races that will be more intriguing to keep an eye on. The fight for draft lottery position between the Isles, Bolts, Panthers, Hurricanes, Leafs, and Blue Jackets or the battle for the top seeds in the Western Conference between San Jose, Chicago, and Phoenix may be more interesting to follow as we head down the stretch in the final games of the regular season.

Therefore, while we may not have the annually over-hyped playoff bubble races, there's still plenty of slightly more unusual battles around the National Hockey League to follow. To keep track of this, we've added the "Race involved in" category to each team's analysis so we can all keep track of who's involved in a race with who else.

Note: All point totals as of March 29, 2010. Top 15 teams receive additional analysis.

1. Washington Capitals...109 pts

Race involved in: Clinched top seed in East

While the Caps have won just five of their last 10 games, they've already long ago secured the top seed in the East (they lead all other teams by 14 or more) and have a five-point edge on the Presidents' Trophy.

2. San Jose Sharks...104 pts

Race involved in: Top seed in West (clinched playoff berth)

The Sharks are in a tight dogfight with two very formidable opponents for the top seed in the West and still have their worries of another playoff meltdown to deal with, but have still managed to win four in a row.

3. Phoenix Coyotes...100 pts

Race involved in: Top seed in West (clinched playoff berth)

Phoenix has a very plausible chance at finishing the regular season with the second-best record in the NHL, but a slight slip up could drop the Coyotes into a brutal four-five first round matchup against red-hot Detroit.

4. Chicago Blackhawks...99 pts

Race involved in: Top Seed in West (clinched playoff berth)

A foursome of fearsome scorers are not to be overlooked as the Hawks march into April, but Chicago must not focus too much on their seeding that they aren't concentrated on winning once they reach the playoffs.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins...95 pts

Race involved in: Atlantic Division title (with New Jersey) (clinched playoff berth)

Despite their dismal performance head-to-head, the Penguins and the Devils are still in a dogfight for the Atlantic Division title. However, neither squad has won more than half their last 10 games.

6. Detroit Red Wings...91 pts

Race involved in: Fifth seed in West

The Wings have earned 17 points in their last 10 games with only one regulation loss, and seem poised to enter the postseason as one of the most feared lower seeds in recent memory.

7. Buffalo Sabres...92 pts

Race involved in: Second seed in East/Northeast Division title (clinched playoff berth)

They recovered from an early spring slump to rebuild a solid lead on the Northeast Division with a 6-3-1 run, and it's been steady enough to launch the Sabres back into the discussion for the second seed in the East.

8. New Jersey Devils...93 pts

Race involved in: Atlantic Division title (with Pittsburgh) (clinched playoff berth)

The Devils are only 5-3-2 in their last 10 games, but they've all but secured home-ice advantage for at least the first round once again.

9. Vancouver Canucks...94 pts

Race involved in: Northwest Division title

The Canucks have mostly wrapped up a top-three seed, but that may not be a good thing with Detroit likely among the lower playoff seeds this season.

10. Nashville Predators...92 pts

Race involved in: Fifth seed in West

While the rest of the Western Conference fights over the top spots, the Predators are quietly producing plenty of points down in Nashville. With a 7-2-1 record of late, watch out for the underestimated Preds down the stretch.

11. Los Angeles Kings...90 pts

Race involved in: Fifth seed in West/playoff berth

The Kings are below .500 in their last 10, and while I still get the feeling that the rest of the NHL shouldn't begin to overlook Los Angeles, you have to worry now that they're only five points into a playoff spot.

12. Ottawa Senators...87 pts

Race Involved in: Northeast Division title (with Buffalo)

While technically the Senators are still involved in the race for the Northeast Division crown, especially with their four consecutive victories, it's quite a long shot. Instead, Ottawa looks pretty well locked in in fifth place.

13. Colorado Avalanche...89 pts

Race involved in: Fifth seed in West/playoff berth

The youthful Avs have been hovering in the top six in their conference for much of the season, but a 4-5-1 last-10 record has sent them down to eighth place and only four points above Calgary.

14. Montreal Canadiens...82 pts

Race Involved in: Playoff berth in East

Many teams haven't taken the Canadiens seriously in a quite a long time, but Montreal has been winning consistently since the Olympic break, with 14 points in 10 games, and that burst has probably put them into the playoffs and possibly even ready for a top-six finish.

15. Calgary Flames...85 pts

Race involved in: Playoff berth in West

The Flames did get a crucial victory in Washington last weekend, but will a late-season run be enough to catch the quick, young Kings or Avalanche? That's yet to be determined.

16. Boston Bruins...80 pts

Race Involved in: Playoff berth in East

17. St. Louis Blues...81 pts

Race involved in: none

18. Anaheim Ducks...78 pts

Race involved in: none

19. Atlanta Thrashers...78 pts

Race involved in: Playoff berth in East

20. Dallas Stars...80 pts

Race involved in: none

21. Philadelphia Flyers...82 pts

Race involved in: Playoff berth in East

22. Minnesota Wild...78 pts

Race involved in: none

23. New York Rangers...76 pts

Race involved in: Playoff berth in East

24. Columbus Blue Jackets...75 pts

Race involved in: Draft lottery position

25. Carolina Hurricanes...71 pts

Race involved in: Draft lottery position

26. New York Islanders...72 pts

Race involved in: Draft lottery position

27. Toronto Maple Leafs...69 pts

Race involved in: Draft lottery position/Not getting last place in East

28. Florida Panthers...71 pts

Race involved in: Draft lottery position

29. Tampa Bay Lightning...72 pts

Race involved in: Draft lottery position

30. Edmonton Oilers...55 pts

Race involved in: Secured first position in draft lottery

Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his 19 months so far with the site, he has written over 175 articles and received over 115,000 total reads.

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