HOCKEY PLAYOFFS – THEY STARTED THREE WEEKS AGO!

30Mar12

I know, I know, officially the playoffs don’t begin until all teams have finished their 82 game season on April 7th.  But anyone who has been paying attention knows that several teams have been playing for their playoff lives for several weeks now. 

Now I must admit, being from the west side of this great country of ours, I haven’t been following the Eastern Conference games nearly as much as the Western Conference.  Perhaps my good friends in Nashville would help us out with that one.  You can find Rob and Joe’s blog “Contrarian Fanatics” at http://contrarianfanatics.wordpress.com

As for the Western Conference, I have been all over this ever since the San Jose Sharks fell apart and the Phoenix Coyotes kicked everyone else’s hind quarters throughout the month of February.  That’s when the Coyotes jumped from about 13th place to the #3 spot over the course of the same four weeks that saw the Sharks fall from #3 to about #11.  Since then, there has been a constant King of the Hill battle going on in the conference playoff race, with most of it taking place in the Pacific Division. 

Let’s look at the whole picture.  After playing second fiddle to Detroit for most of the season, the St. Louis Blues decided to take things over.  They caught a little fire and pulled away from the pack back in early March, becoming the first team in the west to clinch a playoff spot.  As things stand today, they are only a point away from clinching their division and a guarantee of at least the #2 spot.  They are battling Vancouver for the #1 seed, a battle which will probably go down to the last game of the season. 

Detroit, Nashville and Chicago will all make the playoffs, taking the #4, #5 and #6 spots, not necessarily in that order.  That’s right, four teams from the Central Division are in the top five in points.  Yikes!  This leaves a battle for the remaining three spots.  Enter the Pacific Division. 

Over the course of the last four weeks, four teams from this division each had a moment at the top, which will ultimately result in the #3 seed for the team that ends up there in the end.  For a while it was San Jose, then Los Angeles, then Dallas, then Phoenix, then Dallas again, then San Jose again, then Dallas once more, then Los Angeles, then….well you get the point!  All four teams are in a fierce battle.  Unfortunately, one of them will not make the playoffs. 

As things stood this morning, Dallas had the lead with 89 points and five games remaining.  Next was Phoenix with 89 points and four games remaining, then Los Angeles with 88 points and five games remaining, followed by San Jose with 88 points and four games remaining. 

After today’s games were completed, the Kings jumped into first place after beating Edmonton while the Stars were getting whooped by Vancouver. Phoenix and San Jose were idle.  Now, with four games remaining for all four teams, only two points separates first place from fourth place in that division.

After reviewing the remaining schedule for each team, an argument could be made for each team being favored to win the division and the #3 seed.  Let’s look at each: 

Los Angeles Kings – They start out with two games that they should win – at Minnesota and hosting Edmonton.  Then they finish with a home and away series with San Jose.  If they win the first two and split with the Sharks, they will most likely win the division. 

Phoenix Coyotes – They start out with two home games that they should win, Anaheim and Columbus.  Then they hit the road at St. Louis and Minnesota.  If they win the home games and split the road games, they should be in the playoffs. 

Dallas Stars – They have the toughest schedule of the four teams.  They start with an away and home series with the Sharks, and then go to Nashville before finishing up at home against St. Louis.  They have to play perfect to get come away with more than two wins.  And two wins will not get them a playoff spot. 

San Jose – They have a very tough schedule, but have total control of their own destiny.  They start with a home and away series with Dallas, and then finish with an away and home series with Los Angeles.  Since all of their games are against two of the three teams they are competing for a playoff spot with, they can take care of business and walk away with the division, even though they are sitting just out of the playoffs right now. 

Colorado and Calgary both have mathematical chances, but they won’t get there! 

My prediction – Los Angeles takes the division and the #3 seed. Phoenix takes the #7 spot and San Jose takes the #8 spot, leaving Dallas outside looking in. 

As for the rest of the spots – St. Louis takes the #1 spot and will host #8 San Jose in the first round. Vancouver takes the #2 spot and will host #7 Phoenix in the first round.  #4 Nashville will host #5 Detroit while #6 Chicago starts at #3 Los Angeles. 

It’s scary as can be to have to make predictions of which team wins this side of the playoffs, since any one of the top nine teams could find themselves playing for the Stanley Cup. 

We’ll take a shot at it after next weekend.  For now, let’s watch week four of the playoffs to see how the regular season ends!

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