The NHL season seems to be moving at a breakneck pace; most teams have about 25 games left to play before either a trip to the playoffs or a trip to the golf courses. Normally, as the season winds down, playoff races start to heat up. While things are getting interesting out West this year, the East seems rather predictable in comparison.
In the West, practically every team still has a decent-to-outside shot at making the playoffs; the only exceptions are the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers. As of last Sunday, the Flames hold the last wild card spot with 65 points.
Four different teams (Minnesota, Los Angeles, Dallas and Colorado) are within eight points of Calgary, so it is anybody’s guess as to which team will claim the final spot.
Calgary was picked by many to finish near the bottom of the Pacific Division and compete in the McEichel sweepstakes. However, the team has defied the experts, managing to hold onto a playoff spot in the unforgiving West. Led by Norris trophy candidate Mark Giordano, the question now is: can this inexperienced team keep it up and make the playoffs?
The Minnesota Wild, however, are following the opposite trajectory. They were a preseason favorite, picked by many to go far in the playoffs. They did not immediately live up to expectations, finding themselves in the bottom half of the conference for much of the season and even spending some time mired at the absolute bottom of the Central. They have turned it around recently, winning eight of their last 10 games and picking up points in all 10. Only two points behind Calgary, many wonder if Minnesota can live up to its preseason expectations and fight its way to a playoff spot. Finally, perhaps the most compelling storyline in the West is the downright mediocre performance of the Los Angeles Kings.
The defending Stanley Cup champions currently have more losses than wins and have only collected seven road wins the entire season. Is it possible that the team that has won two of the past three Stanley Cups will miss the playoffs altogether?
Compared to the playoff race in the West, the race in the East is rather mundane. Barring some collapse from one of the eight current playoff teams, it seems like it is just a matter of which teams obtain which seeds. In the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders, Penguins, Rangers and Capitals all seemed to have locked up playoff spots by now. In the Atlantic, the Canadiens, Lightning and Red Wings have separated themselves from the rest of the competition. That leaves one spot open, which now belongs to the Boston Bruins.
A few games ago, it looked like the Bruins had taken hold of the eighth spot, threatening to advance farther up the ranks. However, they have lost four of their last five games, allowing the Florida Panthers to remain in shouting distance. Nevertheless, it will be tough for Florida to overtake Boston, as they too have struggled of late and face a tough remaining schedule.
Even though the West definitely features the more dramatic storylines at the moment, the East will also include its share of intrigue and drama once the playoffs roll around. As a hockey fan, I, for one, am counting the days until they arrive.
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