The Western Conference playoff race has a gigantic bubble
right now and a difference of 10 points can get a team as high as third in the
conference standings or as low as 13th.
Here’s a look at the bracketology of the Western
Who’s In: Vancouver
Canucks, Detroit Red Wings
Only one team is truly secure in the Western Conference
and that’s the Vancouver Canucks. They are not only the top team in the conference, they
are the top team in the NHL and will continue to fight for home ice advantage
throughout the playoffs.
The Detroit Red Wings are in very good shape and based on their
pedigree, they are considered a fairly good bet to be in. Truth be told, they
are only eight points ahead of the No. 8 seeded Calgary Flames but the Red
Wings would have to have an epic collapse to miss the playoffs. That’s
Who’s Out: Edmonton
Oilers, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues
There’s really only one that is all but assured to be
golfing once the postseason arrives and that’s the Edmonton Oilers. They have the fewest
points in the NHL and they simply don’t have it this year.
As for the Colorado Avalanche, they are still only 11 points out
of a spot, which is doable, but the fact that they have had no pulse (lost nine
straight), it’s safe to put them to bed.
Much of the same things that were said about the
Avalanche can be said about the St. Louis Blues save for the fact that the Blues are only
nine points out. But with just five wins in their last 18 games, they’ll also
be feeling blue once the NHL postseason begins.
In…For Now: Phoenix
Coyotes, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings
The bubble is absolutely huge in the West as nine points
separate third to 12th. The key here is to follow the trends.
And get ready for this to sound like a broken record:
The Phoenix Coyotes are on fire right now with six straight wins
and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has allowed just nine goals in that span. This is
a team that’s clicking right now and as long as that is the case, they are in.
The Nashville Predators have been in ‘playoff mode’, as head coach
Barry Trotz put it, for the last couple of weeks and the results have been
good. They are 4-1-1 in their last six and are 14-6-2 in their last 22.
Similarly, they are being carried by the play of goaltender Pekka Rinne and
he’s 13-4-2 in his last 19 starts.
The San Jose Sharks are also a team that’s hot right now as they
have turned the corner after a six-game losing streak. They have won 11 of
their last 15 games. They, too, are led by the stellar play of goaltender Anti
Niemi, who is 7-2-0 in his last nine.
The Anaheim Ducks are in the same category as well. They have won
14 of their last 19 games and are riding the coat tails of All-Star goaltender
Jonas Hiller. Meanwhile, the Kings are doing the exact same as they are 8-0-3
in their last 11 and goaltender Jonathan Quick is 7-1-0 in his last eight and
he’s allowed just 14 goals in that span.
Setting aside the Predators for a second, we have four
teams – the Coyotes, the Sharks, the Ducks and the Kings – from the Pacific
Division who are all hot right now riding stellar goaltending.
They still have plenty of contests against each other, so
the hope for the teams on the outside looking in is that they can beat
themselves up and slow each other down.
On The Bubble In
Looking Out: Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars are the only Pacific team that's not on
winning at a torrid, which puts them squarely on the bubble. Remarkably, all
five teams from the Pacific would be in the postseason should it start today
but the Stars are the one team that’s fading in comparison to the other four
The Stars are a strict bet-against right now as they have
losses in seven of their last eight games and are dealing with a number of key
While the races are tight, the Stars are the most
vulnerable team in the West. Everyone else is rolling and will be tough to
catch if that keeps up.
On The Bubble Out
Looking In: Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue
The Calgary Flames appear to be the No. 1 contender right now as
they are 9-1-2 over their last 12 games. They are confident right now –
especially after a win over the Stars, the very team they are chasing. The one
drawback with the Flames is that they have played 60 games, which is the most
in the conference. Other teams have games in hand.
As for the Minnesota Wild, they are only three points out but
back-to-back to Vancouver and Chicago tells you that this team just isn’t that
good. They’ll beat teams that beat themselves but they don’t regularly top
elite competition, which will be a problem for them down the stretch.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the reigning Stanley Cup champs, but
will they get a chance to defend their crown? They are four points out but
their head coach, Joel Quenneville, was recently hospitalized and they simply
can’t find any consistency to their season. Sticking with the March Madness
theme, this is a No. 1 seed that is losing in the second half of a game they
should be winning, but you just have the feel that there is one more run in
them. As shaky as their goaltending has been this season, though, it may not
the Columbus Blue Jackets
are just the picture-perfect bride’s maid. If this were a
Disney movie, we’d be happy if they made the playoffs as an eight-seed but
realistically, they just aren’t good enough to leapfrog the three other teams
to make it. Some recent injuries will also take a bite of their momentum.