Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Heat Is On

The Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings are in perilous positions. Los Angeles dropped a game to Vancouver on Saturday night that they needed to win as they fell four points back of Winnipeg for the eighth playoff spot and two points behind the Flames for third-place in the Pacific Division. Boston dropped another game today, this time at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. They sit just a point ahead of the surging Ottawa Senators, and seem to be struggling to earn points at the most critical time of the season. The heat is on these two teams right now as they battle for their playoff lives.

Boston has just nine games remaining while Ottawa has two games in hand on them. Boston does own the tie-breaker in terms of regulation/OT wins, but it will matter little if Ottawa overtakes them in the standings. These two teams don't meet up for the rest of the season, they do have teams that pop up on their schedules that could affect the race.

Both teams face the New York Rangers twice, and that could pose a problem for both. The Rangers are playing well, and Cam Talbot has been stonewalling everyone. Both teams face Toronto, Florida, Washington, Detroit, and Tampa Bay before the end of the season, and Boston has two games with the Panthers who are also chasing these two teams down. The playoff race may come down to the results against these six teams, and Boston has two less games to gain as many points as they can to hold onto their spot.

For Los Angeles, the playoffs could be won or lost on the five-game road trip they start tomorrow. New Jersey is the first stop, and the Kings are in must-win territory with this game. They then face the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, the Minnesota Wild, and the Chicago Blackhawks before returning home for a game against the Oilers to kick off April. The Kings have to find a way to manage these five games and come home with a winning record or it could be game over for the defending Stanley Cup champions.

While the Kings have one game in-hand on both the Jets and Flames, it won't matter much if they aren't in the race. Winnipeg finishes March off with games in Edmonton and Vancouver before coming home to host Montreal, Chicago, and the Rangers. It's no picnic for the Jets either, but they have a four-point cushion and have beaten some excellent teams recently. If they continue to play as they have in the last four games, the path to the playoffs for the Kings becomes very murky.

Calgary has a far easier path to the end of March as they host Colorado and Dallas before hitting the road against Minnesota, Nashville, and Dallas. Calgary still has to win, of course, but it appears that they'll have an easier time of it based on standings than the Kings will. The Kings will have to be at their best to come out of March ahead of the Flames, so Kings fans may want to develop allegiances for next nine days for the Avalanche, Stars, Wild, and Predators. If Los Angeles is to make the playoffs, they're going to need a little help.

The next three weeks are going to be intense. For the five teams mentioned, it's a race to the finish as the stretch run continues. The only problem is that it could be less of a race if a couple of teams can't find the winning formula to stay in the race.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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