Monday, March 30, 2015

Weekend wrap: The letters have arrived

A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.

Theme of the Week: X Marks the Spot

This weekend marked a big milestone in the NHL season, one that fans look forward to every year: the day the X starts showing up on the league’s standings page.

That would be the X that signifies that a team has mathematically clinched a playoff spot. It showed up for the first time on Sunday, next to the Canadiens, Rangers, Ducks, and Predators. The Blues and Lightning will get theirs as early as today, and by this time next week, we should have at least half of the 16 playoff teams locked in.

After the X comes the Y, denoting teams that have clinched their division. The Ducks will get one soon, having run away with the surprisingly lackluster Pacific, and the Rangers have started to pull away on the rest of the Metro. The Atlantic and Central are different stories, and we may not see those clinched until the final weekend. We’ll also have to wait on the Z (top seed in the conference) and the P (for the Presidents’ Trophy — more on that one down below).

But in any case, that nice, clean standings page you’ve been looking at all season is gone now, replaced by the annual descent into alphabet soup. And that’s a good thing, because it means the end of the regular season is in sight. And pretty soon, we can ditch the standings altogether and bring on the playoff brackets.

(But sadly, the NHL still won’t give us a badge-of-shame letter for the teams that have been officially eliminated from the playoffs. Wouldn’t fit with the league’s “everyone’s a winner” motif, I suppose. You’ll have to look elsewhere to find those.)

On to this week’s power rankings …

Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best

The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.

5. Anaheim Ducks (49-22-7, plus-8 goals differential) With the Pacific almost clinched, now may be the time to rest up for the postseason. The Ducks have a league-low four games left, and all of those are against non-playoff teams.

4. Montreal Canadiens (47-21-8, plus-28) They’ve cooled off slightly, failing to pick up a regulation win in their last three, and host the Lightning tonight in a game that could determine the top seed in the Atlantic.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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