Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin has been celebrating a lot of goals recently. / Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports
Five NHL story lines we would not have anticipated a month ago:
1. Ovechkin in MVP talk: In February, one of the regular questions being asked around the NHL was: What's wrong with Alex Ovechkin? The bullish winger looked out of sync, far less menacing with the puck than he had been in the past. His Washington Capitals seemed to be going nowhere.
Today, Ovechkin has 18 goals in his last 17 games. His team is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and sits atop the Southeast Division. Ovechkin looks dominant again, and he's leading the NHL in goal scoring.
2. Blackhawks have goalie decision: It seemed as if Corey Crawford was the Chicago Blackhawks' clear-cut No. 1 goalie, and maybe that's still the case.
But backup goalie Ray Emery has shown he deserves to be in the conversation as the playoff starter. Crawford's numbers are very good this season, but Emery's are even better.
Emery owns a 15-1 record and has played more than twice as many playoff games as Crawford. Emery took the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007.
A 30-save shutout of the St. Louis Blues on Sunday could swing the pendulum back in Crawford's favor.
3. Islanders change their ways: Of the 16 teams in a playoff position, no one had given up more goals than the New York Islanders.
But over the last three weeks, the Islanders have embraced tight defensive coverage. They have posted a 7-1-2 mark in their last 10 games to get in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
In those 10 games, the Islanders have given up 15 goals in regulation. In the last five games, they have given up five regulation goals.
The franchise that hasn't won a playoff series since 1993 is playing playoff-style hockey.
4. Blue Jackets, Stars still in hunt: The Columbus Blue Jackets were last in the NHL after a 5-12-2 start. Before the trade deadline, the Dallas Stars gave themselves a steeper uphill climb to the playoffs by trading away Brenden Morrow, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy, who have combined for more than 2,800 games of NHL experience.
But Monday morning, both were two points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings. Dallas had a game in hand on the other two teams.
With a five-game winning streak, the Stars match the Blackhawks for the longest active one in the West. The Blue Jackets have earned points in 18 of their last 22 games (13-4-5).
The Stars are trying to earn their first playoff berth since 2008, and the Blue Jackets are trying to make the postseason for the second time in franchise history.
5. Red Wings can't find fourth gear: Detroit's streak of 21 trips to the postseason is in danger, primarily because the team struggles to score goals.
Over the last 10 games, with their playoff life on the line, the Red Wings averaged 1.8 goals a game in regulation.
It's not what you would expect from a franchise that has been among the league's more dynamic offensive teams for years.
It's possible the Red Wings won't know their postseason destiny until their season finale at the Stars.
Copyright 2015 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: Five top surprises as NHL hits stretch run