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Blackhawks return to top spot in Super 16

by Dave Lozo

Marian Hossa is back, and so are the Chicago Blackhawks atop the Super 16 power rankings.

Chicago is 2-0-1 with arguably their best overall forward back from an upper-body injury and the Blackhawks' 5-3 win against the Nashville Predators on Sunday clinched them a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Montreal Canadiens are the class of the East, as they continued their recent mastery of the Boston Bruins with a 2-1 victory Saturday, the Habs' third straight win against Boston this season.

How did the rest of the list shake out? Let's look:

1 4 Chicago Blackhawks: They seem to have righted the ship after playing .500 hockey for about three weeks. Hossa is back and Patrick Sharp isn't too far behind. The biggest question right now is who starts Game 1 of their first-round series -- Corey Crawford or Ray Emery?
2 2 Montreal Canadiens: Winners of five of six, they have an open path to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The injury-riddled Penguins are faltering and the Canadiens play six of their final 10 games against non-playoff teams as of now.
3 1
Pittsburgh Penguins: After a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the Rangers, the Penguins responded with a better defensive effort in a 2-1 shootout win in the rematch two nights later. That's where the focus will need to be over the last three weeks with so many key players missing.
4 5 Vancouver Canucks: Cory Schneider has assumed the No. 1 goaltender position in Vancouver. He's played about eight fewer games than the Vezina frontrunners right now, but still can make a push if he continues to get the bulk of the work down the stretch.
5 6 Los Angeles Kings: A 4-3 shootout loss to the Ducks on Sunday all but ended any hopes the Kings may have had of catching Anaheim in the Pacific. The goal now should be getting home ice in a 4-5 matchup, potentially with the Sharks, who have one regulation home loss this season.
6 7
Boston Bruins: Their three-game winning streak was snapped at the hands of the Habs, but offense continues to be the Bruins' Achilles heel. They've scored more than two goals twice in their past 11 games, and with Patrice Bergeron out, the challenge only becomes greater.
7 8
Toronto Maple Leafs: A home-and-home series with the Rangers starts the week for the Leafs, who are 6-1-3 in their past 10 but running out of time to achieve home ice in the first round. That may not be a bad thing, as the Leafs have been slightly better on the road this season.
8 3
Minnesota Wild: Nicklas Backstrom put an end to a three-game losing streak with a 24-save shutout in Columbus on Sunday. The Wild are in an interesting spot -- two points behind the Canucks for the lead in the Northwest, but just six points ahead of ninth-place Phoenix.
9 11 Anaheim Ducks: Three straight games against the Stars yielded two wins, and a victory against the Kings made it three of four last week. After a 20-3-3 start, the Ducks are just 6-5-2 in their past 13 games, but have been playing better lately.
10 12 San Jose Sharks: Their seven-game win streak ended in horrific fashion Sunday as the Stars rallied from a two-goal third-period deficit to win 5-4 in a shootout. Still, the Sharks look pretty locked into a playoff spot after sitting at 12-10-6 on March 18.
11 13 St. Louis Blues: Four straight wins -- three on the road last week -- have the streaky Blues looking like contenders again. Maligned goaltender Brian Elliott won three of those games, including a victory Sunday in Detroit in which he stopped all 28 shots he faced.
12 NR Washington Capitals: They are on fire, sure, but they're a hard team to gauge in the overall scheme of the NHL. They are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games, but have beaten just one team in the top eight and have zero regulation wins against top eight teams all season. Still, wins are wins, and the Caps are winning.
13 10 Detroit Red Wings: An even split of four games last week left the Red Wings 2-4-0 in their past six and just three points clear of ninth in the West. They don't play again until Thursday, and then it's back-to-back contests with the Sharks and Blackhawks.
14 NR New York Rangers: Three out of four points against the Penguins, no matter their health situation, always is impressive. And goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been driving this 3-0-1 stretch; he has a .962 save percentage in his past four games.
15 NR
New York Islanders: Much like the Capitals, the Islanders are heating up, but also beating lesser competition. They are 6-1-1 in their past eight, but have just one victory against a playoff team, and their two losses are to the Caps and Penguins. Again, wins are wins, and the Islanders are getting them regularly of late.
16 9 Ottawa Senators: Four straight losses in which they have five goals have the Senators' playoff hopes on shaky ground of all a sudden. The Sens are just 6-10-3 away from home and will end a seven-game road trip with stops in Tampa, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Boston in the next seven days.

Just Missed: Phoenix, Columbus, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Buffalo


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