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Washington looks to capitalize on streak

The Capitals have been on an impressive run lately and look locked in to the No. 3 position in the East. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

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The Capitals have been on an impressive run lately and look locked in to the No. 3 position in the East. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

When THN staffers gathered Monday morning and began the process of picking our Stanley Cup favorite for our Playoff Preview edition, the usual suspects were naturally mentioned. Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, Vancouver and more were discussed, but at least one member of the team tried to make a case for the Washington Capitals.

Most of us didn’t buy it.

But it says a lot about the turnaround of this team that they’re even in the conversation again. I don’t even think they’re a good dark horse pick because of their poor record against the Northeast and Atlantic divisions. But when I linked the phrase dark horse with the Capitals on Twitter, one reply defended the Caps as a threat. Now, most teams in the playoffs should be classified as a threat, but the point he was making was that the Caps are a level above the bottom rung of Stanley Cup candidates and can’t be ignored because of their recent run. Fair comment.

The Los Angeles Kings had trouble scoring all last season and squeaked into the playoffs because they got hot at the end of the year, and ran the table to a championship. The popular thing these days is to look for the team most like last year’s Kings and jump on them now as Stanley Cup favorites.

But the Caps are just not last year’s Kings. They don’t have the proven depth, the sheer amount of top-tier offensive weapons, or the quality of netminding L.A. did. Last year’s Kings were an anomaly and there won’t be one of them every year.

Still – these Caps have the hockey world on notice once again. And that’s exciting.

THE HOCKEY NEWS POWER RANKINGS
RK.
TEAM
LW
OVERALL
P10
THE SCOOP
1
Chicago Blackhawks
2
32-5-4
8-1-1
Corey Crawford stops 57 of 59 in weekend games, including a shutout against a suddenly hot Blues team Sunday in a game that had a playoff atmosphere.
2
Pittsburgh Penguins
1
32-10-0
8-2-0
Outscored three Southeast opponents 14-7 last week and stand 11-3 against the division, which puts Washington’s run into perspective.
3
Los Angeles Kings
10
24-14-4
6-2-2
Kings have won seven of 11. It seems they have figured out how important it is to start the playoffs on a high, and how to get there at the right time.
4
Vancouver Canucks
5
23-12-6
7-3-0
Winners of 10 of their past 13, we’re getting a real feel for the Canucks. Derek Roy has been underwhelming thus far, but Ryan Kesler is back.
5
Anaheim Ducks
7
27-10-5
5-4-1
Ducks have seventh-best offense in the NHL, but have slipped into a slump with eight goals in the past five games.
6
Montreal Canadiens
3
26-10-5
6-4-0
One thing to lose in Toronto, quite another to get blown out the way they did. Still, as awful a night as it was, you can’t underestimate a team with good goaltending and a capable, fast ‘D’ in this, the weaker conference.
7
Boston Bruins
6
26-11-4
5-4-1
Jagr with seven points in six games since joining the Bruins; Iginla with four points in seven games since joining Penguins.
8
Toronto Maple Leafs
8
23-13-5
7-1-2
Depth has been surprising, while goalies have proven their worth entering the playoffs. Leafs not likely to win the East, but look increasingly like a team capable of winning a round.
9
Washington Capitals
14
23-17-2
8-1-1
No team has been as hot as Washington, who has won 16 of 23. But they get a penalty for benefitting from playing against the Southeast most the time. During this 23-game run, Washington is 6-5-1 against Northeast and Atlantic teams.
10
St. Louis Blues
18
23-16-2
6-4-0
Loss to Chicago Sunday had real playoff atmosphere to it. Blues back to their stingy ways, allowing only 11 goals in past eight games. Will be dangerous playoff team with experience under their belt this time.
11
San Jose Sharks
16
21-13-7
7-2-1
Don’t really know what we’re getting from the Sharks night to night. League-low one home regulation loss is nice, but San Jose also has most regulation road losses among playoff teams.
12
New York Islanders
19
21-16-5
7-1-2
While John Tavares leads the charge and ascends to superstardom, Evgeni Nabokov is this team’s X-Factor and could lead them to something really surprising. Nabokov hasn’t allowed more than two goals in April yet.
13
Dallas Stars
20
21-17-3
6-4-0
Tremendous five-game winning streak includes tough wins against Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles. Peaking at right time, or just a bit too early? This one may come down to the very last game of the season, when Dallas hosts Detroit.
14
Minnesota Wild
4
22-16-3
3-6-1
Lost three in a row at home and now take to the road for three games in Alberta and San Jose. This is when we find out what kind of character this team has.
15
Columbus Blue Jackets
11
19-16-7
6-3-1
NHL first star Sergei Bobrovsky keeping Blue Jackets alive, but next five games are on the road. Gaborik has three goals and six points in six games with Columbus.
16
Detroit Red Wings
13
20-15-7
4-4-2
Since beating Anaheim in back-to-back game in late March, the Wings have played against teams in a playoff position five times, going 0-3-2.
17
Ottawa Senators
9
21-14-6
5-5-0
Have played six road games in a row, winning only two despite subpar competition. With Craig Anderson back, we’ll see just how much of a difference he’s capable of making.
18
New York Rangers
21
21-16-4
6-3-1
It hasn’t been pretty, but man, Rangers have grinded out points in six of past seven games, winning five. This team will be a nightmare match-up for a team with home-ice advantage.
19
Phoenix Coyotes
25
18-16-7
5-2-3
The Coyotes face a bunch of stiff competition down the stretch (Chicago, St. Louis, Anaheim among them) and sit four points out of eighth. They’ll need some help, but pulling down a winning record against those teams will go a long way towards a surprise playoff appearance.
20
Winnipeg Jets
15
21-19-2
5-5-0
Among Southeast teams, the Jets have the most wins against the East’s other two divisions. But they’re very mediocre within their own (weak) division.
21
Buffalo Sabres
27
18-19-6
5-3-2
Much like last year: too little, too late. Sabres have won five of seven, but have fewest number of games remaining on their schedule in the East.
22
Philadelphia Flyers
24
17-21-3
4-5-1
Flyers answer four-game winning streak with a four-game losing streak and move up in these rankings by default, since those behind them are even worse off. Philly should rebound just as they did after the 2006-07 season.
23
New Jersey Devils
12
15-16-10
1-5-4
In past 11 games, David Clarkson and Patrik Elias have two goals each, Ilya Kovalchuk has no goals in two games played and Martin Brodeur has one goal.
24
Edmonton Oilers
17
16-18-7
5-5-0
Fired GM Steve Tambellini as current five-game losing skid knocked them out of the playoffs yet again. Replacement GM Craig MacTavish talked about big changes in his press conference, but we’ll see.
25
Calgary Flames
28
16-21-4
4-6-0
Flames have won a meaningless three of four. The idea of tanking is embarrassing and flawed in the face of proud and competitive pro athletes.
26
Tampa Bay Lightning
26
17-22-3
4-4-2
So Ben Bishop has won twice in six appearances with Tampa Bay and has allowed more than two goals in four of them. Yet is save percentage is a respectable .916 with the Lighting. Methinks something needs to be addressed on defense. Duh.
27
Colorado Avalanche
30
14-22-6
3-5-2
Since Power Rankings give some weight to recent games, Avs get brownie points for wins over Ducks, Canucks. Get the feeling this team needs major changes, including in the front office and behind the bench.
28
Nashville Predators
22
15-20-8
1-7-2
Nashville scored an uncharacteristic 42 goals in 14 March games, but as quickly as they found some offense, it was gone. Preds have managed 11 goals in eight April games, winning once and meekly bowing out of playoff contention.
29
Carolina Hurricanes
23
17-22-2
2-8-0
Dating back exactly one month, the Hurricanes have won only twice. Since signing a five-year extension, Alex Semin scored twice in 11 games with a minus-11 rating.
30
Florida Panthers
29
13-22-6
4-6-0
Worst team, in the worst division + fewest points in the league = easiest ranking ever.

 

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