With only a couple of days left in this lockout-shortened NHL season the Western Conference playoff race is heating up.
There are three teams that are separated by just one point, battling for the seventh and eighth playoff spot. It is an interesting race because all three teams are completely different.
- First you have the Detroit Red Wings (23-16-8 = 54 points). The Wings have been a model of success for many years now. They have a streak of 21 straight seasons of making the playoffs that is in jeopardy. However they have won three straight and could be playing their best hockey at the right time.
- Then there is the Minnesota Wild (25-18-3 = 53 points). Minnesota looked like they were comfortably in the playoffs in the middle of March. However they have went 4-8-2 down the stretch and now sit eighth in the West. They picked up Zach Parise and Ryan Suter each for $98-million dollars over 13 years in the offseason and seemed like a lock for the playoffs. It hasn’t worked out quite as planned and tonight’s clash with Edmonton is HUGE.
- Finally there are the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets (23-17-7 = 53 points). When they traded Rick Nash to the Rangers everyone thought that this team would just go through the motions this season and pick up another top-5 draft pick. Then Sergei Bobrovsky splashed onto the scene with a ridiculous season and they traded for Marian Gaborik at the deadline. They sit in ninth in the West with only a tie-breaker separating them from eighth.
Detroit and Columbus each only have one game left. Detroit faces the Stars in Dallas tomorrow while the Jackets take on the Predators at home, also tomorrow. Minnesota is in the best spot with two games left. Like I said earlier they take on the Oilers tonight and the Avalanche in Colorado tomorrow.
The Red Wings and Wild each hold their own fate in their hands. If the Red Wings get to overtime tomorrow vs. Dallas they clinch a playoff berth. If the Wild win tonight against Edmonton, they are also in. However if Minnesota loses tonight, they still have a chance to win tomorrow to clinch their spot. Columbus is going to have to win and hope Detroit loses in regulation or Minnesota loses both of their games in regulation. If both happen and Columbus wins, then the Blue Jackets will finish seventh and the Red Wings will finish eighth. Got all that?
If the playoffs were to start today, this is what the matchups would look like in the West.
1. Chicago vs. 8. Minnesota
2. Anaheim vs. 7. Detroit
3. Vancouver vs. 6. San Jose
4. St. Louis vs. 5. Los Angeles