Hey kids, time to wake up and smell the roses. It is that special time again, the one where some fans have either a small wait, and others who haven’t had to wait in a long, long time. And of course there are those who have waited an eternity – ahem, Leafs. Speaking of which, congrats on making the playoffs -being there is awesome, especially if it seems “new” again.
It is the most exciting time of the year for hockey fans and definitely tops my birthday. Turning only 28 I have seen a hockey transition from an 80’s game to the 90’s game and to the current version we all watch today. But what remained a constant is the immense intensity of playoff hockey.
The thing is that the season is not over, and we still have an intense battle with just two games left for most teams to not only secure a spot, but to settle into designated seeds. So let us take a peek in the Western Conference and find out who has the best odds to make the playoffs. The entire list of scenarios gets kind of crazy, but we will just focus on what each team will have to do to get in.
Dallas Stars are currently riding a very impressive victory-less run of three games. This must be highly disappointing to the fans because, well, before this three-game skid they had won 6 in 7 games. Both Bachman and Lehtonen were playing well on that run, and as a result they have come to really push for the eluding 8th place. The main issue here is lack of games left. Dallas seemed like a new team after the trade deadline; scoring goals and playing very good defense. The luck of the draw had them play their last 15 games against playoff teams, except one game against Nashville, and that is a lot of hockey against a lot of good teams. The next two games of those 15 are against the two teams they are chasing – the Blue Jackets and Red Wings. The issue here is that they HAVE to win out and hope other teams do not pick up a point.
Columbus pretty much loses the tie breaker to Dallas, and if Dallas beats Detroit, they take the tie-breaker against them. But basically Dallas has to win both games and hope Detroit loses its game against Nashville. So the odds are not good, but less unlikely things have happened.
Speaking of Columbus Blue Jackets, they were sitting in the 8th spot just before Red Wings beat LA last night and now Blue Jackets are just one point out with two games left. The good news here is that the team has been on fire. This reshaped team with mostly ex-Rangers players, has been led through thick and thin by Vezina-type goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky. This team only lost three times in April and just beat the Sharks 4-3. With Dallas and Nashville on their schedule, this team can win out the last two games and put some serious pressure on both the Wild and Red Wings. Now, the Blue Jackets are 1-0-1 against the Dallas so far and are 3-0 against the Predators on the season. The team struggled scoring goals early on, but it seems that they are getting goals up and down their line up right now and having Gaborik playing for you never hurts your chances of winning.
Columbus will lose any tie-breakers with the Wild, Dallas, and Detroit so they need to win and have Detroit lose at least one game in regulation. It is never good to hope for a team above you to lose, so while the Blue Jackets fans have been teased with a playoffs spot for the last month, the odds here are not exceptional, but beating Dallas and Nashville will decide pretty much everything.
Injuries: Nikita Nikitin and Artem Anisimov will not play against the Dallas Stars.
Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs for so long that it has become a staple for the casual Wings fans to come out of their hibernation cave around April. This year? Well, things are changing. Wings fans have been sweating pretty much since March about making the playoffs as the Red Wings slowly slid down the standings from being as high as in 4th place at one point to looking outside, in at 9th place. It seems that Mike Babcock has found the magic and Detroit has been playing very well as of late. While having an awful April in general, the Wings have managed to pick up points in all but three games this month. The dagger through the heart though is that they have managed to lose to teams like Phoenix and Calgary. Calgary in particular has had an amazing amount of success against the Wings, beating them in all three meetings. Losing to bad teams has haunted Detroit all season. Most fans would have to agree with me with that Detroit has been playing really well since that Phoenix loss on April 4th and showed how good they can be with a win over LA Kings last night. They lost games but even the games against the Blues (1-0 loss) and Calgary (3-2 loss) I felt like Detroit was the better team but a few bad breaks cost them. Two big games against Nashville and Dallas are must wins for the Red Wings. Wings can actually grab the 7th spot and avoid playing Chicago Blackhawks with two wins and a loss by the Wild.
Red Wings hold the tie-breaker over Blue Jackets, but not against Dallas and Wild. Detroit controls their own destiny and if they win out they are in the playoffs, but that is always easier said than done. There is a good chance the streak of playoffs will end, but I think the Wings have really found their stride and will not let the 8th spot slip away.
Injuries: Todd Bertuzzi will be back in the line up against Nashville;couldn’t finish last night’s game due to an undisclosed injury.
Minnesota Wild did not start the season on a fantastic fashion. They were 6-6-2 after the first 14 games and long out of the top 8, but somehow someway have managed to turn it around. While feeding on Colorado, Edmonton, and the Flames, the Minnesota Wild have managed to finally challenge Vancouver for the Northwest title. Remember those big time free agent signings and $180 million that were committed to Ryan Suter and Zach Parise last summer? Well, it all is paying back in spades…or at least it was until April hit. With only four victories in April, the Wild find themselves in danger of sliding out of the playoffs. The win against LA Kings was not just needed, it was life saving. The last two games are against two of the worst teams in the west this season, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. Scoring and defense have been a bit shaky in April for this team and even during the LA game, the Wild, seemed to be on their heels almost all of the game. Jason Pominville is quite an asset to grab at the deadline, but he and the rest of the top tier players need to step-up and seal the deal with these victories and give the Wild fans what they want so badly…some playoff hockey.
The Wild control their destiny and with the tie-breaker going in their favor against the Wings, Blue Jackets, and Dallas, I just do not see this team not making the playoffs. It would be a helluva meltdown to see this team miss the top eight this year.
Injuries: Jason Pominville is dat-to-day; Mike Rupp still seems to be a no go with an undisclosed injury.
What to say here but that we have an exciting night tonight and this weekend. There is lots on the line and while I can guess all I want, no one can predict anything without the boys playing the games. I really think that Wild and Detroit hold on to their seeds and while it does break my hart not to see Blue Jackets in the playoffs, this Cinderella story just runs out of steam.
For those who don’t make it, there’s always the NHL Draft and lottery picks.
So, Wild and Wings in…Dallas and Blue Jackets out. Disagree? Leave a comment.
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photo credit: Dinur via photopin cc