Power Rankings: No. 1 Ducks peaking thanks to goaltending

Ken Campbell
Patrick Maroon (left) and John Gibson (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

After giving up 12 goals in successive losses to the Rangers and Columbus last week, the Anaheim Ducks are peaking at the right time. And most importantly, so is their goaltending.

After some rough outings, the tandem of Fredrik Andersen and John Gibson has won three straight and given up just five goals. Going into the playoffs, the Ducks will have a decision to make between Andersen, who has been a rock for most of the season, and Gibson, who has won 11 of 16 games since being recalled from the American League. The Ducks find themselves No. 1 in this week’s thn.com Power Rankings, which is where they also find themselves in the NHL standings with four games remaining. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)

1. ANAHEIM (9): The Ducks held the ubiquitous “players only meeting” last week and responded with three consecutive wins, all against Eastern Conference opponents and on the road, in which they gave up only five goals. Coming up: Three of their final four games at home, starting with Edmonton Wednesday night.

2. MINNESOTA (6): The Wild is a team that’s at its best when it’s really busy. Minnesota had a stretch of 30 games in 62 days and compiled a 24-5-1 mark to get back into the Western Conference race. Coming up: A breather until Thursday night when the host the Rangers in the third game of a five-game home stand.

3. MONTREAL (2): The Canadiens have the opportunity to make a late-season statement when they host Tampa Bay tonight. The Lightning has won all four games this season and outscored the Canadiens 16-5. Coming up: After tonight, they face Washington at home Thursday, then are on the road for three of their last four of the season.

4. NASHVILLE (10): The Predators hit the 100-point plateau for the fifth time in franchise history and two nights later clinched a playoff spot. Hands up all of those who predicted either of those things happening this season. Coming up: Home to Vancouver Tuesday night, then four days off until they face Dallas at home.

5. N.Y. RANGERS (1): The hurting Rangers were forced to call up Chris Summers on an emergency basis for their 5-2 loss to Washington on Sunday. With Henrik Lundqvist back and splitting the past two games with Cam Talbot, the Rangers have given up nine goals. Coming up: A late-season western trip starting Tuesday night in Winnipeg. The Rangers are 16-5-5 against Western Conference teams this season.

6. PITTSBURGH (15): When Chris Kunitz scored on the power play in Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win over Arizona, it was just his second goal in 27 games. Defenseman Kris Letang remains sidelined with a concussion, which could be serious given his history with head injuries. Coming up: Home to Philadelphia Wednesday night, then four of their final five games on the road.

7. CHICAGO (7): Prior to their come-from-behind 4-3 win over Winnipeg Sunday, the Blackhawks had dropped to fourth place in the Central Division. Coming up: Home to the defending Stanley Cup champs tonight, then back-to-back against Vancouver and Buffalo Thursday and Friday.

8. TAMPA BAY (3): The Lightning could stop a late-season swoon and enhance its chances of finishing first in the Atlantic Division with a win in Montreal tonight. It would also sweep the five-game series against the Habs. Coming up: After the Montreal game, Tampa is in Toronto Tuesday night, then continue on to Ottawa and Florida.

9. ST. LOUIS (8): After missing 25 games with an abdominal injury, Kevin Shattenkirk played 21:34 in a loss to Columbus on Saturday. Alex Steen left the same game with a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. Coming up: Home to Vancouver tonight and Calgary Thursday, then the last two road games of the season in Dallas and Chicago.

10. N.Y. ISLANDERS (13): The Islanders are throwing some kind of farewell party for the Nassau Coliseum. Prior to beating Detroit 5-4 at home Sunday, they had dropped seven in a row there. Coming up: Three of their final five games on the road, starting with a trip to Columbus Thursday night.

11. WASHINGTON (16): Capitals coach Barry Trotz shuffled his lines in a big way Sunday, splitting up Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and putting Joel Ward on the top line. The moves paid off in a 5-2 win over the Rangers. Coming up: Ovechkin will try to become the first (and only) 50-goal scorer this season starting Tuesday night when the Capitals host Carolina.

12. VANCOUVER (11): The Canucks open a four-game road trip tonight in St. Louis, which isn’t a problem considering they’re 22-12-3 on the road this season. Coming up: The aforementioned four-game road trip, all against Central Division opponents, then their last three on home ice.

13. DETROIT (12): The Wings must be getting a little nervous about their goaltending. Aside from a 4-0 shutout by Petr Mrazek over Tampa, the Red Wings gave up 16 goals in four games. Coming up: Home to two desperate teams with Ottawa visiting Tuesday and Boston Thursday night.

14. BOSTON (20): Fans in Boston held their breath Saturday when goalie Tuukka Rask had to leave early in the second period with a dehydration issue, but he was back to his old self, stopping 30 of 31 shots in the Bruins 2-1 overtime win over Carolina Sunday. Coming up: Home to Florida Tuesday night, then four of their final five games of the season on the road.

15. COLUMBUS (22): It’s far, far too late, but the Blue Jackets are the hottest team in the NHL right now. They’re 9-1-0 in their past 10, have won six in a row and are riding a franchise-record eight-game winning streak on the road. Coming up: Now the downside. The Blue Jackets could be mathematically eliminated as early as Tuesday night when the host New Jersey.

16. CALGARY (14): The Flames will have to earn their keep if they hope to stay on the positive side of the playoff race in the Western Conference, starting with a huge game in Dallas tonight. Coming up: A nasty five-game road trip continues with games later this week in St. Louis and Edmonton.

17. WINNIPEG (5): The Jets didn’t do themselves any favors when they allowed hometown boy Jonathan Toews to tip in the winning goal for Chicago with 31 seconds left in a 4-3 regulation loss on Sunday. Coming up: Home to the Rangers and Vancouver, then three of their final four games on the road.

18. OTTAWA (4): It wasn’t long ago that the Senators had a glut of goalies. But with Andrew Hammond hurting and Craig Anderson struggling, the Senators have given up 13 goals in the past three games, all losses. Coming up: In Detroit Tuesday night, then home to Tampa Bay and Washington.

19. LOS ANGELES (19): After sweeping the New York teams, the Kings found themselves outside the playoff picture looking in once again when they dropped a 4-1 game to Minnesota on the weekend. Coming up: A five-game road trip ends tonight in Chicago, then home for two and back on the road for three.

20. DALLAS (18): The Stars are still fighting to stay alive and saying all the right things, but with six points to make up and two teams to catch, things are looking grim. Coming up: A huge game tonight when the Stars host Calgary, then St. Louis before going on the road for three of their final four games.

21. FLORIDA (17): Gutsy call by coach Gerard Gallant. With his team in a desperate bid for a playoff spot, he scratched Brad Boyes Sunday in Ottawa. Boyes hasn’t scored a goal in eight games. Coming up: Provided his shoulder is fine, Roberto Luongo will go for his 400th career win Tuesday night in Boston.

22. COLORADO (21): With a goal and eight points in four games last week, Ryan O’Reilly was named third star of the week. Coming up: Home to Edmonton, than a killer road trip through California as the Avs try to keep their slim playoff hopes alive./

23. EDMONTON (27): After missing 23 of 24 games with injuries, Taylor Hall has points in each of the four games he’s played since returning to the lineup. Coming up: In Colorado tonight, then on to Anaheim and Los Angeles for back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday.

24. SAN JOSE (23): Even the San Jose Sharks see the reality in their season. “We’re not out of it yet, still not out of it,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News. “I know there’s people probably watching and reading and going, ‘This guy’s nuts.’ But who knows? We’ll see.” Coming up: Home to Colorado and Arizona, then three of their final four on the road.

25. PHILADELPHIA (24): The Flyers are considering buying out the final three years of Vincent Lecavalier’s contract if they can’t trade him in the off-season. Coming up: Visits to Pittsburgh and Carolina, then the last four games of the season at home.

26. CAROLINA (25): March Madness is March sadness for the Hurricanes. They played 11 home games in March, and their average announced (not actual) attendance was 12,470. With Duke in the Final Four, the ‘Canes might as well not exist. Coming up: The Hurricanes finish their season with five of seven on the road.

27. TORONTO (29): The Leafs have a history of ham-handing ceremonies, but their treatment of 11-year-old Garrett Gamble over the weekend was pure class from start to finish. Coming up: Hosting Tampa Bay Tuesday night, then three of their last five games on the road.

28. NEW JERSEY (26): A microcosm of the Devils season: They say they didn’t know until after their 2-1 loss to Anaheim Sunday night that they had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, which had happened when Boston won in the afternoon. Coming up: Four of their final six on the road, starting Tuesday night in Columbus.

29. ARIZONA (30): There is no quit in the Coyotes, who won two overtime games last week and have been getting stellar play from goalie Mike Smith. Coming up: Hosting Buffalo tonight in the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes™, then on the road for three of their final five games.

30. BUFFALO (28): The Sabres have won just one game in March, and that was in a shootout. Coming up: They could all but clinch last place and the top seeding in the draft lottery with a regulation loss in Arizona tonight. At least fans will be able to cheer for the loss in the privacy of their own homes this time.

Ducks’ Chris Wagner flips Devils’ Jon Merrill into bench with thunderous check

Jared Clinton
Chris Wagner (via NHL/YouTube)

The first career highlight for Anaheim Ducks rookie Chris Wagner isn’t a beautiful goal or a crisp tape-to-tape pass for his first NHL point. Rather, the 6-foot, 200-pound Wagner made his way onto the highlight reel with a massive check on New Jersey Devils defenseman Jon Merrill — one that sent Merrill flipping into the space between the two benches.

Wagner, who has played just six games this season and in his third straight game Sunday night, delivered the hit little more than two minutes into the Ducks’ game against the Devils, and he was rewarded by Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau with the second most ice time of his young career. You can check out the hit, and the hilarious follow-through, below: Read more

Top five best-case-scenario first-round NHL playoff matchups

Brian Elliott, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. (Dilip Vishwanat/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the end of the NHL’s regular-season approximately two weeks away, attention has settled on the possible first-round playoff showdowns. Many, if not most of the specific post-season berths won’t be finalized until closer to the final games on Apr. 11, but it’s not too early to start crossing fingers in the hope that some teams will wind up facing particular opponents and provide viewers with maximum entertainment value right out of the gate. Here are the top five best-case scenario first-round matchups this year:

5. Montreal vs. Ottawa. There are a few ways the Senators can take on the Canadiens in the first round, and most of them involve the Habs fending off Tampa Bay to retain top spot in the Atlantic Division, while the Sens hold on to the final wild card berth. Both results are entirely possible, and if it does happen, Canadian TV executives will be shimmying down the avenue as they celebrate the massive ratings that are sure to ensue. Read more

Inspirational young fist-bumping Bruins fan gets his own hockey card

Adam Proteau
Bruins fan Liam Fitzgerald poses with his Upper Deck card during Boston's game against Anaheim. (Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

In early November, nine-year-old Bruins fan Liam Fitzgerald captured the hearts of hockey fans when he fist-bumped each of Boston’s players as they left the ice prior to a game against the Florida Panthers. And on Thursday, the inspirational youngster was back at a Bruins game to receive a huge honor: his own hockey card. Read more

Hockey Hall of Fame clears path for Chris Pronger’s immediate induction – and it’s about time

Chris Pronger signs autographs at the 2014 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

According to an ESPN.com report, former NHL star defenseman Chris Pronger’s road to the Hockey Hall of Fame was cleared Thursday when the HHOF’s general voting members ratified changes to the induction eligibility criteria for players. The decision means it’s possible Pronger will be welcomed into the HHOF’s next group of honorees – and regardless of what you think of the process that led to this point, you can’t argue the 40-year-old doesn’t deserve to be acknowledged as one of the game’s all-time great blueliners and competitors.

The report states one of the HHOF’s new bylaws (No. 26, in this case) includes this section, which directly addresses Pronger’s situation: “a person is not eligible for election in the player category if he or she has played in a professional or international hockey game (which terms shall not be considered to include games played only or primarily for charitable or recreational purposes, or for any other limited purpose that the Chair of the Board of Directors determines, in his or her discretion, should not disqualify for nomination a person otherwise eligible) during any of the three (3) playing seasons immediately prior to his or her election.”

In effect, the new bylaw means that players such as Pronger – someone who everyone knows won’t play again because of injuries, yet who doesn’t file retirement papers because of salary cap issues – can be considered after the standard three-year period following their final game. Read more

CHL playoffs: The most intriguing first-round matchups

Quebec's Anthony Duclair  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The CHL playoffs begin tonight and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Connor McDavid has one last chance to win it all with the Erie Otters in the Ontario League, but the powerfully-built Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have designs of their own. Out in the Western League, Kelowna and Brandon seem to be on a collision course for the final, while the Quebec League has the added wrinkle of sending two teams to the Memorial Cup – one being the host Quebec Remparts, who won’t want to crawl in through the back door.

Here’s a look at all the first-round matchups in the CHL, with a bit more info on one series per league that has me riveted from the get-go.

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Former NHLer Stephen Peat surrenders to police in B.C., charged with arson

Adam Proteau
Former Capitals right winger Stephen Peat. (Bruce Bennett via Getty Images)

Former NHL right winger Stephen Peat, who appeared in 130 games for the Washington Capitals from 2001-2005, surrendered to Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia last week and stands accused of arson in connection with an alleged attempt to burn down a Brookswood, B.C. home.

Originally from Princeton, B.C., Peat reported to the RCMP March 19 and has been in their custody since that time. The 35-year-old is charged with one count of arson with a disregard for human life, and one count of arson causing damage to property. He had a court appearance scheduled for the morning of March 23. Read more

NCAA Frozen Four: Players to watch from every team in the tournament

Minnesota State goalie Stephon Williams (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

College hockey’s Frozen Four kicks off this week with 16 teams gunning for a spot in Boston, where the semifinal and final will be held in April. Regionals spread the squads across four cities and there is a lot of firepower at this year’s installment. But who are the players to watch for? Here’s a primer for every school, with an admitted bias towards NHL prospects.

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