With the Stanley Cup Final now on the horizon, theScore's Josh Gold-Smith put together the third installment of the NHL Playoff Power Rankings. (Rankings 5-16 are unchanged from the previous edition.)
1. Vegas Golden Knights
Honestly, what else can we say about the best story in the NHL at this point?
Doubters keep expecting them to regress, but the expansion darlings continue to prove they belong among the NHL's elite clubs this spring, and they've been the most impressive team in these playoffs.
The Golden Knights made quick work of a deep, talented Winnipeg Jets squad, dispatching them in five games, and Vegas is now 12-3 in this postseason.
They've opened as the favorites in the Stanley Cup Final, and have a legitimate shot to win as long as Marc-Andre Fleury stays red-hot and the top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith continues to do serious damage.
2. Washington Capitals
The second-best story of the playoffs has undoubtedly been the Capitals exorcising their postseason demons, with Alex Ovechkin reaching the championship round for the first time in his 13-year NHL career.
Washington reeled off consecutive shutouts of the Tampa Bay Lightning as they forced Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and then won that in convincing fashion Wednesday night.
Ovechkin looked like a man on a mission as he scored the opening goal of Game 7 a mere 62 seconds in.
The Capitals are getting what they need out of their captain, as well as from Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and goaltender Braden Holtby, but they've also gotten all-important secondary scoring from the likes of Andre Burakovsky, Devante Smith-Pelly, Brett Connolly, and Lars Eller.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning had the Capitals on the ropes, taking a 3-2 series lead in the conference final before losing Games 6 and 7.
Tampa Bay's offense evaporated in those final two contests, and while the Capitals' goaltending and defense certainly deserve credit for that, the Lightning's most dynamic scorers didn't produce when they needed to most.
They should certainly hold their heads high after a solid season, but the Lightning had the Capitals where they wanted them and couldn't finish the job.
Don't blame Andrei Vasilevskiy, though. The Tampa Bay netminder - who won't turn 24 until late July - was stellar in the series, posting a .932 save percentage over the final five games. The Lightning's core should remain largely intact, so they should be one of the league's best teams once again next season.
4. Winnipeg Jets
The Jets had visions of the Cup dancing in their heads after a terrific regular season, and they looked to be on course to fulfilling that as their playoff run progressed. Then they ran into the upstart Golden Knights.
That series was closer than it appeared, but Winnipeg had no answer for Vegas' relentlessness.
Mark Scheifele tallied three times in the series but was held off the scoresheet in Games 4 and 5, managing only a single shot on goal in the latter, and Connor Hellebuyck wasn't terrible but was simply outplayed by Fleury.
Patrik Laine was neutralized, too, but the Jets will be back, and the futures of both the franchise and its brightest young star remain bright.
- 5. Nashville Predators
- 6. Pittsburgh Penguins
- 7. Boston Bruins
- 8. San Jose Sharks
- 9. Toronto Maple Leafs
- 10. Colorado Avalanche
- 11. Columbus Blue Jackets
- 12. Philadelphia Flyers
- 13. New Jersey Devils
- 14. Minnesota Wild
- 15. Anaheim Ducks
- 16. Los Angeles Kings
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
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