Ducks, Penguins rounding into form, but are they playoff threats?

Hot and not

MarchandBrad Marchand, Boston Bruins
Marchand is perhaps the hottest player in the league right now. He has nine goals in his past nine game (including four in the past three) and scored the game-winner Saturday night on a penalty shot in overtime.

NilssonAnders Nilsson, Edmonton Oilers
Nilsson allowed four goals on just 11 shots Sunday in an 8-1 rout at the hands of the New York Islanders, and he was pulled before the first period was over. Overall, he has not been in the crease for an Oilers win since Dec. 11.

Are the Ducks and Penguins locking down playoff spots?

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: OK, now that the Super Bowl (that was super?) is over, we can turn our full attention to the stretch run and the trade deadline, which is only three weeks away. I'm looking forward to Monday's Anaheim Ducks-Pittsburgh Penguins tilt in Pittsburgh, a homecoming for the Ducks' sterling still-rookie goaltender. These teams made an interesting swap recently, with the underperforming David Perron heading to Anaheim and Carl Hagelin becoming a Penguin after simply not fitting in with Bruce Boudreau's Ducks. Both have played well since, especially Perron, who has three goals and five assists in seven games as a Duck. Hagelin, playing often with Evgeni Malkin (who missed games on the weekend with injury), and Phil Kessel, has five assists in eight games. Bottom line, though, is both teams are thriving now after struggling through miserable first halfs. The Ducks have won six in a row and are a point behind San Jose for second place in the Pacific. The Pens, meanwhile, hold down the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and are on a 7-2-2 run, putting them just a point behind an up-and-down New York Islanders team that sits third in the Metropolitan Division. So, are both these teams locks to make the playoffs now? Could both the Pens and Ducks significant playoff runs? What say you?

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: It's hard to call either of those teams a lock right now, but of the two I'd feel more comfortable crowning the Ducks. They're returning to the form we all expected when we heaped lofty preseason expectations on their shoulders. They've tightened up defensively and, just as importantly, they've gotten bodies back on defense. Plus, I think general manager Bob Murray still has another impactful trade in him before we're all said and done here. Now, he can make any deal from a position of strength rather than out of desperation, and that's a nice advantage. With their recent streak, the Ducks are now just one point out of the best playoff slot in the NHL, because finishing second in the Pacific would allow Anaheim to host a first-round playoff series against a team like the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks or Arizona Coyotes, none of whom are serious Stanley Cup contenders. My expectation is they'll lock it down.

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: At this point, Scotty, I don't think any team is a lock to earn a postseason berth. Maybe there are a with a few exceptions, but the Ducks and the Penguins will no doubt make it interesting. Despite what the standings say, Anaheim is a very good team. I expect a strong push down the stretch from the Ducks and we should see them in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The same can be said for the Penguins. Since the team made a coaching change, Mike Sullivan has turned things around and Pittsburgh's best players have played like it, which is exactly what we've been waiting to see. If I had to make a call right now, I would say both teams make the playoffs. Maybe this spring Pens captain Sidney Crosby and his mates can finally craft another deep playoff run.

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Wait until you see today's NHL Power Rankings. Then you'll see how real I believe the Ducks are. And now they're even scoring again, too, putting up 35 goals in their past nine games. They're not just grinding out low-scoring games anymore, which they had been while turning their season around. They're filling the net with pucks like the old days, too. The Ducks are back and they're for real.

Around the league