When the Rangers host the Anaheim Ducks Sunday, each team is virtually assured a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs, But they also are in the hunt for the Presidents' Trophy, first awarded in 1986 to the team with the best overall regular-season record.
The Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues also are in the chase for the league's top spot. But what's the fuss?
Sure, it's valuable to have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, but one piece of hardware doesn't necessarily lead to another, and although there's no evidence of a Presidents' Trophy curse or jinx, only a handful of teams have gone the distance.
Winning the trophy simply means that a team has navigated the treacherous waters of a long regular season, even if it sometimes runs aground on the shoals. It is not necessarily an indicator of ultimate success in the playoffs, which are win-or-go-home series, when a hot goal-tender or a key injury can change momentum.
In fact, only eight of 28 Presidents' Trophy winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup, and 12 of the other 20 winners have been eliminated in either the first or second round.
The Rangers have games in hand on the three other teams currently in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. But be careful what you wish for.
Since the 1993-94 season, when the Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy with 112 points, and then the Cup, only five teams have won both: Dallas in 1998-99, Colorado in 2000-01, Detroit in 2001-02; Detroit again in 2007-08, and Chicago in 2012-13.
Note that 2012-13 was a 48-game, lockout-shortened season. So really, only four comparable times in 20 years.
Alain Vigneault's Canucks are a good example of the divergence after mid-April. His squads won the Presidents' Trophy in 2010-11 with 117 points and 2011-12 with 111. They went to the Final and lost to the Bruins in seven games, then were eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round the next season.
So Vigneault knows the landscape. That's why he's said several times that he's only aiming for the "checkmark" -- the "X" in the standings that signifies clinching a playoff berth -- and then will turn his focus on competing for the highest seed possible.
Sounds like the right approach.
Staal feels Henrik's pain
Defenseman Marc Staal, who has missed time in his career with an eye injury and concussions, offered Henrik Lundqvist, who is ready to practice after not playing since Feb. 2, some advice. "I talked to him; he hasn't gone through something like that," Staal said. "The first time I had to go through a long stretch, the biggest thing is to realize what's happened and accept it, just do your best to recover. You can't control how fast you're going to come back. He was pretty good through the whole thing. You have your up and down days. He's pretty positive, from what I've seen at the rink."
Players have their say
With the NHL's general managers recommending changes in overtime to reduce shootouts -- a move we endorse -- 3-on-3 play in some form is on the horizon. Under consideration is the AHL format (4-on-4 for three minutes and 3-on-3 for four minutes) or 3-on-3 for five minutes before a shootout. Players will have their say in the summer. Here's a sample:
Ryan McDonagh: "Well, it'd certainly be up-and-down, with two-on-ones. Either way, I think it would be exciting, no question. I think you want to finish it out that way rather than the shootout, if possible."
Derek Stepan, the team's player representative: "If the goal is to get the shootout out, fine. You think it'll open things up, but I remember playing 3-on-3 against Toronto. I was out there with two D and [Leafs center Tyler] Bozak said to me, 'What do we do?' Teams with good shootout players -- and we've got one of the best shootout goalies [Henrik Lundqvist] -- might play it differently."
Dan Girardi: "It's [3-on-3] not really a gimmick like the shootout. Of course, I'm never in the shootouts. But you'd probably have shorter shifts, and definitely have more players involved to try to decide the extra point."