The Stanley Cup Playoffs are just 15 days away, and while some teams are jockeying for the final few spots in order to get into the postseason there are four teams that are fighting for the NHL's Presidents' Trophy, given annually to the team with the league's best record.
The St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers have all reached the 100 point plateau and have shown no signs of slowing down as the regular season nears its end. Here is a look at what is standing between each team and the league's top spot.
St. Louis Blues
Record: 47-21-7 103 pts.
Games Remaining: (6) NSH, @CHI, COL, DET, PHO, @ DAL
The St. Louis Blues have been one of the most surprising stories this season. A suffocating defense, and exceptional goal tending have propelled the Blues to a possible division title, and the leagues number one spot. The Blues do not score as often as they would like but have not needed, they sport the leagues lowest goals against per game average at a gaudy 1.83 thanks in part to their franchise record, 14 shutouts this season.
Going into the final two weeks of play, the Blues may have the hardest schedule. The Blues will face an opponent that is fighting for either home ice advantage, or one of the last playoff spots available for the remainder of the season. This situation will make grabbing the twelve points that are available for the remainder of the season an uphill challenge.
On the bright-side, the Blues will be at home, where they have a 29-4-4 record, for four of their remaining six games.
The glorified goal tending and defense of Blues will be tested through the final stretch as well. Detroit, Chicago, and Nashville all rank in the top ten for average goals scored a game with 2.97, 2.96 and 2.83 respectively.
Record: 46-21-9 101 pts.
Games Remaining: (6) COL, DAL, CAL, ANA, @CAL, EDM
A very similar situation presents itself in Vancouver. The Canucks have rode the play of All-Star goalie, Roberto Luongo, to this point of the season. Luongo seemed shaky during early stages of the season, but has found his groove of late, he posted a 38 save shutout against the Los Angeles Kings last night.
One factor that may hinder the Canucks chances of finishing the number one team in the league is the health of Daniel Sedin, and at the moment their is no timeline for his return.
On the other hand, a glaring advantage that the Canucks have compared to the other teams on this list is their schedule. The team will only have to travel away from Rogers Arena for only one of their remaining six games.
Three of the four teams coming into Vancouver are curently in the hunt for the playoffs so these games will no doubt be hard fought games. But, with a home record of 22-10-4 the ten attainable points at home seem a lot easier to snag.
New York Rangers
Record: 47-22-6 101 pts.
Games Remaining: (7) @MIN, @WPG, MON, BOS, @PHI, @PIT, WSH
Much like the Blues and Canucks, the Rangers have been anchored by the Vezina worthy performance of their goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has been in the net for 35 wins this season, eight of which have been shutouts, and boasts a .932 save percentage.
The Rangers will have to win on the road if they want a shot at the leagues number one spot, and they will have to do so in some unfriendly areas along the way. Their road schedule includes the free falling Wild in Minnesota, Winnipeg at the ever loud MTS Centre, the roadyness of Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center and Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center.
If the Rangers want to have any chance at grabbing the title they will have to win against the surging Penguins, claiming a vital two points while keeping them away from the Penguins.
The Rangers will rely on the talent and leadership of players like, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, and Derek Stepan through the home stretch and will need them to produce.
Record: 47-22-6 101 pts.
Games Remaining: (7) NYI, @NYI, @BUF, PHI, @BOS, NYR, PHI
The Penguins are currently the hottest team in the NHL. They have won 14 of their last 16 games, boast the leagues best goals per game average with 3.25 and have one of the strongest rosters in the league. Add that to Marc-Andre Fleury's 11-0-1 record over his last 12 starts, puts the Penguins on a scary run just in time for playoffs.
The games that remain on the Penguin's schedule may swing the odds in the Penguins direction. The Pens face the lowly New York Islanders in a home-and-home series, and only have to play two games on the road after their series with the Islanders. Their home games will include that pivotal game against the Rangers which could ultimately knock the loser out of the race for the top spot.
The Penguins have recently recovered from the injury bug, getting Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang back, giving them their complete roster, which is stacked, for their final push.
The fact that the Penguins now have their complete roster, and the recent play of Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury is why the Penguins should narrowly edge the Blues and Rangers and have their name engraved on the Presidents' Trophy for the 2011-2012 season.
Final Record Prediction:
St. Louis Blues: 50-21-11 111 pts. (L NSH, OTL @CHI, W COL, OTL DET, W PHO, W @DAL)
Vancouver Canucks: 50-22-11 111 pts. (W COL, OTL DAL, W CAL, W ANA, OTL @CAL, W EDM)
New York Rangers: 51-23-8 110 pts. (W @MIN, OTL @WPG, W MON, L BOS, W @PHI, L @PIT, W WSH)
Pittsburgh Penguins: 51-23-7 112 pts. (W NYI, W @NYI, W @BUF, OTL PHI, L @ BOS, W NYR, W PHI)