Hot Ice: NHL Chase to the Playoffs Hits Home Stretch
The NHL changed the playoff format for this year, and its owners have to be happy with the idea.
This season, the top three teams in each division make the playoffs along with two wild cards. Right now, it looks like the races will go down to the last day of the regular season in each conference.
And the hype has arrived:
Going into the final two weeks of the season, five teams in the East and four teams in the West are fighting for the new wild card spots.
Columbus and Detroit hold down the final two playoff spots after Saturday's action, and each of them could still move up in their respective divisions. RIght behind the Blue Jackets and Red Wings are Washington, Toronto, and New Jersey. The Maple Leafs are amazingly in the race even though they've lost eight games in a row.
The Western Conference has Minnesota and Phoenix holding down the last two wild card spots with Dallas only one point behind the Coyotes. Vancouver is still in the mix, with 79 points, just five behind Phoenix. Like the Leafs, the fact that the Canucks are still in the conversation is a minor miracle. Also like the Leafs, that's probably all they'll warrant from the miracle grab-bag.
St Louis is leading the West with 107 points and are battling Boston (108) for the President's Trophy. The $350,000 reward that goes with it spends nicely at Safeway, but that particular piece of hardware may soon be known as the Jinx Cup. Only four of the past fourteen winners have gone on to win the Cup, including last season's Chicago Blackhawks. And they're in the mix for it again.
No matter what the outcome, one thing is for certain: the NHL teams fighting for the playoffs all have winning records. That's the total opposite of the NBA, which has four teams in the Eastern Conference fighting for two spots and, embarrassingly, all those teams are under .500.
The NHL introduced playoffs to the world of sport in 1926 when it assumed possession of the Stanley Cup and appended it to the end of its season. The Cup is the oldest team trophy in North American sports, and anyone who has laced on skates is aware of its tradition and dreams of seeing their name engraved on it. That's why the next two weeks will be as intense as the post-season.