Monday, 31 March 2008

That Magical Time Of Year

With the season turning from brutally cold to somewhat nice in Canada, it can only mean one thing: NHL playoffs. There will be sixteen teams who get an invitation to the "Big Dance", meaning fourteen teams will spend their springs asking "Where did we go wrong" in preparation for the NHL Entry Draft in June. Despite there only being sixteen invitations being made up, there are as many as twenty NHL teams still competing for those invitations. And that's what makes this last week in the NHL so great: almost every single game has implications on the playoffs in terms of who gets in, and who watches from home.

Today, I'll look at the Western Conference where we know that Detroit and San Jose have clinched their respective divisions, meaning they will start the playoffs in the first and second seeds. The Sharks can still catch Detroit for first overall in the NHL as the Wings lead the Sharks by five points, and both teams have three games remaining. However, Detroit losing three games in a row at this point of the season seems unlikely.

The Anaheim Ducks are platooned in the fourth-seed, and will remain there unless they lose their remaining two games, and Dallas wins their remaining three. Again, I see this as highly unlikely. However, Minnesota is going to the playoffs as well, and should be the third-seed unless the wheels fall off.

Here's where it gets blurry. Let's go over these situations one-by-one.

Colorado needs two points to guarantee themselves a playoff spot. They play the Canucks and the Wild in their last two games. The Avs are four points behind Minnesota for the division lead, and three points ahead of Vancouver who are currently in eighth place. Every single point counts for Colorado.

Calgary is the seventh-seed right now. The Flames play the Oilers, the Wild, and the Canucks in their final three games. The Flames lead the Oilers by four points in the standings, and the Canucks by two points. If the Flames win out, they can catch and surpass the Wild for the division lead, but they will need help from both the Canucks and Avalanche.

The Canucks are holding down the last playoff spot right now, and have games against the Avalanche, Oilers, and Flames remaining. The Canucks trail the Avalanche by three points and the Flames by two points, and have a two-point advantage over the Oilers. The Canucks basically have to grab as many points as possible to hold off Nashville, Edmonton, and Chicago.

The Nashville Predators have a home-and-home with the St. Louis Blues, followed by a game with the Blackhawks to close out the season. If anyone's schedule has to be favoured for them to make the playoffs, it's the Predators. The Predators can basically eliminate the Blackhawks in that last game as well. They currently trail eighth-place Vancouver by one point, so every point counts for the Predators at this point.

The Edmonton Oilers are sitting two points back of Vancouver. They play the Canucks and Flames in what could be called "the biggest games of the season" for Edmonton. Looking back, though, it appears the Oilers have been in playoff mode since mid-January. If the Oilers make it through these two games and into the playoffs, I'd be very scared of a possible first-round upset.

The longshots of the Western Conference playoff push are the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks currently sit four points back of Vancouver, and will definitely need help. The Hawks basically have to win all three games they play. The problem is that they have the Red Wings twice, and the Predators once. Not good... not good at all. I'm writing the Blackhawks off at this point.

Ok, so the way I see it unfolding is this:

1. Detroit Red Wings
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Minnesota Wild
4. Anaheim Ducks
5. Dallas Stars
6. Calgary Flames
7. Colorado Avalanche
8. Nashville Predators

I just don't see Vancouver making it through the Avalanche and Flames. The Oilers are in the same boat in terms of making it past the Flames - I don't see it happening. The Blackhawks need to play mistake-free hockey for the next week just to have a shot, and I don't see that happening as well.

As with all my predictions, I'm most likely to be wrong, so don't take my word for anything that happens. Vancouver fans, I just don't see your team making it with only two games left on the schedule and needing as many points as possible, especially when you consider Nashville's schedule.

This week looks very promising in terms of the upcoming action. Find a TV or radio, and tune in! April 9th will be here before you know it!

Until tomorrow, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

I have my playoffs chart all made, and as soon as the official matchups are released, I will make a predictions chart and tape that up below it to see how I do.

I also made a chart to track Justin Morneau's homeruns, because I'm still in love with baseball at this point in the season. That is subject to change by the All Star game.