With two weeks remaining in the NHL regular season, the race for the Presidents' Trophy—awarded to the team that finishes with the best overall record—is tightening up.
You could say it’s a four-team sprint. Realistically, it’s a seven-team race.
Right now, St. Louis holds a one-point edge over Boston with nine games remaining for each club. San Jose and Anaheim are in the rearview mirror, trailing the leaders by four and six points, respectively. The current leaders must not forget about Chicago, Pittsburgh and Colorado, all of which are in close vicinity and are more than capable of closing the gap.
A two-game skid could create mass chaos. An extended losing streak could shake up the race considerably.
With fewer than a dozen games remaining until the race for Lord Stanley’s Cup begins, who has the edge?
Let’s take a closer look:
St. Louis Blues (50-16-7, 107 pts, first in NHL)
The loss of coveted forward Vladimir Tarasenko to a hand injury appeared troubling for St. Louis. Tarasenko was tied for fourth on the team with 21 goals and was a vital piece to Ken Hitchcock's offense.
But the Blues keep grinding out wins, which is a big reason why they lead the league with 107 points.
After acquiring world-class goaltender Ryan Miller and gritty forward Steve Ott from Buffalo, the Blues have upped their play considerably. St. Louis has won three straight and five of its last seven, including a 5-1 rout of Minnesota Thursday at Scottrade Center, where Olympic hero T.J. Oshie recorded his first career hat trick.
Following the Olympic break, the Blues were on the road for six of their first seven games, a challenging task to say the least. They dropped their first two, but followed that up by rattling off five straight wins.
Now, the Blues are home for five of their next six, including Saturday night’s tilt against Central Division foe Dallas.
Our goal should be to win the President’s Trophy,” Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently. “It’s within our grasp and I hope that’s the focus of the players. I’d like to see us win our division, and the President’s Trophy, there’s probably six or seven teams still in that race, and we’re in it. I hope our players view that as a goal.
Boston Bruins (50-17-6, 106 pts, second in NHL)
Boston saw its 12-game winning streak come to an abrupt end in a 2-1 shootout loss to Montreal on Monday. No matter; the Bruins bounced back with an impressive 3-0 statement over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks Thursday at TD Garden.
The Bruins are one of the most rugged teams to play against. Their size, tenacity and physicality are second to none.
The Bruins will play seven of their final nine away from the Garden, where they are an NHL-best 29-7-3. Despite being on the road for most of their remaining schedule, the Bruins will face four teams (Detroit, Washington, Toronto and New Jersey) battling for a wild-card spot, and two clubs (Buffalo and Winnipeg) that are in the bottom tier of the standings. Remaining games against Minnesota and Philadelphia could prove challenging for the Bruins.
“We’re not looking for any easy games,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald. “That doesn’t suit us. Right now we need to continue to get these challenges that we’re getting. That’s going to keep us on our toes.”
San Jose Sharks (47-19-9, 103 pts, third in NHL)
San Jose is vying for its first Presidents' Trophy in five years.
After earning points in their previous four games, the Sharks lost 4-3 to Winnipeg on Thursday, while both St. Louis and Boston posted wins.
San Jose boasts an impressive record at the SAP Center and will play four of its remaining seven games on home ice.
The Sharks clinched a playoff berth with a 2-1 shootout loss to Calgary on Monday.
“There’s satisfaction in clinching,” Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan told David Pollak of the Mercury News. “That was one of the goals we set out to do, and we accomplished that. Obviously, we’re in a heck of a race for other things.”
San Jose plays at Colorado Saturday, a pivotal game for the Sharks.
Anaheim Ducks (47-18-7, 101 pts, fourth in NHL)
Anaheim was idle Thursday, but it will have a chance to narrow the gap Friday at division rival Edmonton.
The Ducks have won two straight and four of their last six.
Over their next seven games, the Ducks will play Edmonton three times and Vancouver twice. Dates with Winnipeg and Nashville are in the mix as well.
However, the Ducks’ final three games could make or break their chase for the Presidents' Trophy. They host San Jose and Colorado and play Los Angeles at the Staples Center.
“We’ve got [three games] in hand still, we win [those], it’s back even,” Ducks forward Corey Perry told Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times recently. “It’s not over until it’s the last game of the season. We’re still pushing to be the No. 1 seed.”
The Ducks will need to take advantage of their upcoming schedule by securing wins against inferior clubs like Edmonton and Vancouver in order to stay in the race.
Chicago Blackhawks (42-17-15, 99 pts, fifth in NHL)
The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks lost ground on St. Louis and Boston when they were shut out 3-0 on the road against the Bruins Thursday.
“Everyone seems to be tightening up and tuning up their teams and playing good hockey down the stretch,” Hawks’ winger Patrick Sharp told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. “We need to put this one behind us.”
With eight games remaining, Chicago trails No. 1 seed St. Louis by eight points. The Blackhawks will face the Blues one last time in St. Louis on April 6. The Blackhawks routed the Blues 4-0 at the United Center on March 19, but are just 1-1-2 against their division rivals.
Despite an eight-point deficit, don’t count out the Blackhawks, a club headed by Joel Quenneville, who's one of the greatest coaches in league history—boasting 702 wins, the most by an active coach.
Colorado Avalanche (46-21-6, 98 pts, sixth in NHL)
Colorado sits nine points behind league-leading St. Louis and will get a chance to gain two points when the two clubs face off on April 5.
From March 14-21, the Avalanche lost four of five. Since then, they've won two straight, including a 5-4 shootout win at Nashville and Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win vs. Vancouver.
The Avs face a challenging task of catching up to the Blues, considering they have two games remaining against San Jose, one with Pittsburgh and one with Anaheim, all of which are in contention for the Presidents' Trophy.
We want home ice,” Avs’ center Matt Duchene told Mike Chambers of the Denver Post. “We’re staying hungry. Like it’s been all year, we don’t change. Winning should breed more winning, not complacency. We aren’t thinking about when we’re going to clinch [a playoff spot] as much as finishing with as many points as we can.
Pittsburgh Penguins (46-22-5, 97 pts, seventh in NHL)
Pittsburgh is sputtering. The Penguins have dropped three straight, including a 3-2 loss at home to Los Angeles on Thursday. Trailing Boston by nine points and St. Louis by 10, it’ll be tough for the Penguins to catch up. The Penguins have lost four of their last five and are 6-8 overall this month.
“We’re working and striving to be a better team right now in how we play,” Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma told Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But the Penguins have the luxury of playing five of their final nine games at CONSOL Energy Center, where they are a dominant 26-8-2.
Another loss could eliminate the Penguins from the Presidents' Trophy race.
Right now, to go through some tough times is not a bad thing,” Penguins’ defenseman Matt Niskanen said, according to the Post-Gazette. “I think we’re handling it the right way so far. We’ve just got to keep pushing, keep trying to do the right things, have a good attitude about it. If we stick together and continue those things, it’s going to make us better when some adversity comes in the playoffs.
And the Presidents' Trophy Will Go to …
With Ryan Miller between the pipes, the Blues are simply the team to beat. They aren’t the biggest club in the league, but they play big. They put doubt in their opponents’ minds. They harass the opposition, wreak havoc on opposing forwards, pressure defenses and crash the net. Most importantly, the Blues are making Scottrade Center one of the toughest venues to play in.