NHL West: The Final Playoff Shakedown Is in Full Swing
The final week of the NHL season is upon us, with the Western Conference having four playoff spots clinched and -- just as in the East -- five teams battling for the remaining four slots.
The Anaheim Ducks have sewn up the Pacific Division and are leading the conference in their quest to claim the Presidents' Trophy. The rest of the Pacific is up for grabs.
Vancouver, Calgary, and Los Angeles are fighting for the last two spots. The Canucks won a precious extra point with a shootout victory in Los Angeles last night in a game that had all the intensity of a play-in, which it basically was:
The Sédin Twins & Co would like nothing better than to move the Kings out of the playoffs, because recent history shows LA is the most dangerous springtime team, no matter what position they start in. Last night's victory put the Nux in the driver's seat; they now only need two points from their remaining two games to join the Stanley Cup chase.
They finish at home with Arizona and Edmonton, so they're likin' how their lookin' in Lotusland. Again. Same as it ever was.
Nashville, St Louis, and Chicago have nailed down their spots in the Central Division but are only separated by two points in the seeding chase.
The Predators have led most of the season, sparked by goalie Pekka Rinne and his 2.15 goals against average, but the Blues and always-involved Blackhawks are still in position to win the division. That made Sunday's clash vital:
Minnesota and Winnipeg are also in the mix for the Wild Card spots. The Wild have come on strong after a slow start led by goaltender Devan Dubnyk, while the Jets are looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since moving to Winnipeg three years ago. Thus, last night's clash between them was a literal four-point battle:
Missing from these scenarios are the San José Sharks, snapping a decade-long run that was more futility than opportunity. Their challenges were internal, as usual, and much more personal than their usual springtime collapse. Even casual fans could see that stripping Joe Thornton of the captaincy wouldn't end well for anyone in teal.
So, if the Kings join them on the wayside, maybe the other springtime bridesmaid, St Louis, will finally take advantage of it and advance to their first Stanley Cup finals since the first two years of the expansion era. They may be due, but as the Sharks well know, that's not enough.