NHL: Western Conference playoff race
With the condensed 48-game NHL season entering its final stretch, there are still a ton of questions to be answered in regards to playoff positioning. Lets take a look at the Western Conference and how things may shape up.
Currently the Chicago Blackhawks are at the top of the conference and as of Friday afternoon the only club to have clinched a playoff spot out west. The Anaheim Ducks lead the Pacific Division and currently occupy the second seed in the conference, followed by the third seeded and Northwest Division leaders the Vancouver Canucks. While these three teams will probably finish in that order, the remaining playoff spots and seeds are very much up for grabs.
Currently the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings are in fourth place with 50 points and 7 games to play, while the San Jose Sharks lurk closely behind with 49 points and 8 games to play. To make matters even more interesting, the sixth place St. Louis Blues have 48 points and 9 games remaining. While the fourth-sixth seeds will most likely be occupied by these three teams when the season comes to a close, there is a good chance we can still see some swapping back and fourth between the clubs. Despite the road success of the Kings in the last years playoffs, the team as well as the Sharks and Blues badly want that fourth seed for home ice advantage in round one of the playoffs.
Now taking a look further we have the seventh seeded Minnesota Wild at 46 points and the Detroit Red Wings in the eighth and final playoff position with 44 points. While the Wild appear close enough to battle for a higher seed, the club has been struggling a bit as of late. The Red Wings are playing decent, but again the fun really starts now as breathing right down their necks are the Phoenix Coyotes with 42 points as well as the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets each with 41 points. The Stars have 9 games remaining, while the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Red Wings and Wild all have 8 game left. Games in-hand are huge at this point as long as you can rack up the points. The Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators are also technically still in the playoff picture as well. The Oilers have 39 points with 8 games to play and the Predators are a point behind with 38 and only 7 games left on their schedule. It will be very unlikely though for either the Oilers or Predators to make the playoffs, especially in Nashville’s case with being further behind in points as well as having less games remaining.
On Friday night if the Red Wings lose in regulation and the Coyotes win their game, then the two clubs will be tied for eighth place, although the Wings will still hold the tie breaker with more regulation-overtime wins (ROW). The Stars and Blue Jackets are also in action on Friday night, so things can continue to get very interesting if those clubs win their games. If the Wild don’t start to put it back together here quickly, we can end up seeing them fall out and closer to the pack. This will make for a very exciting final few weeks of the season.The playoff race out west will go down to the wire and once again we are seeing how great the parity is.