Welcome |Account|Sign Out 
NEW! SIGN IN WITH YOUR SOCIAL PROFILE
OR
Username or EmailPassword
 
2014 NHL Draft
SHARE

West playoff bubble: Pacific, lower seeds up for grabs

Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 2:44 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

Share with your Friends


West playoff bubble: Pacific, lower seeds up for grabs
Phoenix is back in front in the Pacific, but the division hasn't been wrapped up yet, nor have the final three berths to round out the top eight.
There is nothing more stressful at this time of the season than finding yourself on the playoff bubble. A two-game losing streak that would be a blip on the radar in October can suddenly become the difference between a postseason berth and planning a month-long May vacation in Alberta with the family.

Throw in the fact that hockey players wear sharp metal blades on their feet, and there is really nothing more easily burstable than a playoff bubble.

Yet that's where a bevy of NHL teams find themselves as the calendar flips to March.

COUNTDOWN TO THE PLAYOFFS

East Bubble: Cats, Caps in driver's seat

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer
The Panthers lead the Southeast Division while the Capitals cling to the No. 8 seed, but both teams will need to hold off stiff competition. READ MORE ›
For the sake of argument, we'll assume playoff spots in the East for the Rangers, Bruins, Penguins, Senators, Flyers and Devils, and in the West, we'll do the same for the Canucks, Red Wings, Blues and Predators. On the other side of the spectrum, we'll say the Hurricanes, Islanders, Canadiens, Oilers and Blue Jackets are more focused on the draft than the playoffs.

Earlier, we examined the bubble teams in the East. Now, let's check out the West.

3. PHOENIX COYOTES (33-21-9, 75 points, 19 games remaining)

Position: 5 points ahead of ninth place, 1 game in hand on Colorado.

If they finish .500…:
If the Coyotes close the season 9-9-1, they'll have 94 points. To miss the postseason with that number, the Sharks must win the Pacific, bumping the Coyotes down to seventh place, then two of the following teams must pass the Coyotes: Eighth-place Dallas needs to go 11-6-1, ninth-place Colorado needs to go 12-6-0, 10th-place Los Angeles needs to go 12-6-0, 11th place Calgary needs to go 13-5-1, 12th-place Minnesota needs to go 14-4-1, 13th place Anaheim needs to go 15-3-0. If the Coyotes finish with the edge in the regulation/OT wins tiebreaker, their pursuers must get to 95 points.

Getting healthy?: Defenseman Rostislav Klesla recently skated after suffering an upper-body injury Feb. 19, while fellow blueliner Derek Morris (groin/personal) has been out since Feb. 12. Both should return in the coming weeks. Forward Kyle Chipchura (wrist) should be back before the end of the season. Center Gilbert Brule (head) will be back soon.

Outlook: They are the hottest team in the NHL, posting an 11-0-1 mark in February. They have three more games against the Blue Jackets and one against the Oilers. The Coyotes would need to pull a sudden 180 to lose their grip on the playoffs.

3 Key Games:

March 10 vs. San Jose:
Winning the Pacific means home-ice in the first round, perhaps against the Sharks.

March 14 at Vancouver:
This matchup is a tough one, and kicks off a four-game road trip.

March 24 at San Jose:
The Coyotes have won twice since 2009-10 at HP Pavilion. It'd be nice to show at the late stage of the season that they can win there.

Jonathan Toews
Center - CHI
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 57
SOG: 185 | +/-: 17
6. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (34-24-7, 75 points, 17 games remaining)

Position: 5 points ahead of ninth place, have played 1 more game than Colorado

If they finish .500…: If the Blackhawks close the season 8-8-1, they'll have 92 points. To miss the postseason with that number, three of the following teams must pass the Blackhawks:  seventh-place San Jose needs to go 9-9-1, eighth-place Dallas needs to go 10-7-1, ninth-place Colorado needs to go 11-7-0, 10th-place Los Angeles needs to go 11-7-0, 11th place Calgary needs to go 12-6-1, 12th-place Minnesota needs to go 13-5-1, 13th place Anaheim needs to go 14-4-0. If the Coyotes finish with the edge in the regulation/OT wins tiebreaker, their pursuers must get to 93 points.

Getting healthy?: Captain Jonathan Toews (upper body) is day-to-day and should return in the coming weeks, but there are reports he could miss the rest of the season. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) and Steve Montador (concussion) could be back soon, although Montador is considered to be out indefinitely and missing the rest of the season isn't out of the question.

Outlook: Much in the same way it's hard to jump over a lot of teams to reach the playoffs, it's hard to miss the playoffs with this type of cushion. Outside of two games with Minnesota in April and one with Columbus, the Blackhawks have nothing but playoff-caliber teams on their schedule, so it won't be easy to wrap things up.

3 Key Games:

March 16 at Dallas: If the Blackhawks are slipping and the Stars are still rising, this one will be huge.

March 20 at Blue Jackets: Two points against the last-place team in the League can't be lost.

April 7 at Detroit: It's the regular-season finale. The Blackhawks wouldn't mind it if the Red Wings had nothing to play for at this point.

7. SAN JOSE SHARKS (33-22-7, 73 points, 20 games remaining)

Position: 3 points ahead of ninth place, 2 games in hand on Colorado

Martin Havlat
Right Wing - SJS
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 15
SOG: 62 | +/-: 8
If they finish .500…: If the Sharks close the season 10-10-0, they'll have 93 points. To miss the postseason with that number, two of the following teams must pass the Sharks: eighth-place Dallas needs to go 11-6-1, ninth-place Colorado needs to go 11-6-1, 10th-place Los Angeles needs to go 11-7-0, 11th place Calgary needs to go 13-5-1, 12th-place Minnesota needs to go 14-4-1, 13th-place Anaheim needs to go 14-3-1. If the Sharks finish with the edge in the regulation/OT wins tiebreaker, their pursuers must get to 94 points.

Getting healthy?: Forward Martin Havlat (hamstring) will return this month. Defenseman Douglas Murray (throat) will be back eventually. Newly-acquired center Dominic Moore has been out with an undisclosed injury.

Outlook: They've been finding the going tough lately, but getting back Havlat will boost the struggling offense. There's too much talent on this team to miss the playoffs altogether, and deadline reinforcements Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi should provide a spark. One danger -- the Sharks play 17 games in 31 days in March, a grueling schedule at this point of the season.

3 Key Games:

March 8 at Dallas: Beating the Stars would give the Sharks some needed breathing room.

March 24 vs. Phoenix: If the Sharks get things rolling over the next three weeks, this game could have Pacific title implications.

March 26 vs. Colorado: The Avs are on the fringe of the playoff picture. The Sharks would like to keep them there with a win here.

8. DALLAS STARS (33-26-5, 71 points, 18 games remaining)

Position:
1 point ahead of ninth place, even in games with Colorado

If they finish .500…: If the Stars close the season 9-9-0, they'll have 89 points. To avoid losing the No. 8 seed with that number, ninth-place Colorado needs to go 10-8-0 OR 10th-place Los Angeles needs to go 10-8-0 OR 11th-place Calgary needs to go 11-7-1 OR 12th-place Minnesota needs to go 12-6-1 OR 13th-place Anaheim needs to go 12-5-1. It's safe to assume the Stars' pursuers will need to reach 90 points due to the differential in regulation/OT wins.

Getting healthy?: Captain Brenden Morrow has been struggling to recover from an upper-body injury, but the likelihood is that he's not going to miss the rest of the season. Forward Jake Dowell will be back from a broken finger in the near future.

Outlook:
The Stars held on to Steve Ott at the trade deadline, and sometimes a trade you don't make can energize a club. They have 10 games on the road in their final 18, but are 15-14-2 away from home. The Stars are 5-1-2 in their last eight. If they keep that up, they can hang on to the final playoff spot.

3 Key Games:


March 4 at Calgary:
The Flames are breathing down the Stars' neck.

March 8 vs. San Jose:
A win here, and perhaps the Stars will start worrying more about climbing than shaking teams chasing them.

April 7 vs. St. Louis:
The season finale could be against a team locked into a playoff position.

Steve Downie
Right Wing - COL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 35
SOG: 113 | +/-: -8
9. COLORADO AVALANCHE (33-27-4, 70 points, 18 games remaining)

Position: 1 point out of eighth place, even in games with Dallas

Chasing 91 points: As of March 1, it's projected that 91 points is what it will take to earn the eighth seed. The Avs need to finish 10-7-1 to get to that mark. The Avs would likely lose a tiebreaker if the Stars also have 91 points, so they would need to go 11-7-0 in that scenario to reach 92 points.

Getting healthy?: Defenseman Ryan O'Byrne (knee) should be back soon.

Outlook: The Avs have nine games remaining against non-playoff teams. Their 7-2-1 mark over their last 10 games says they are hitting their stride, and new acquisition Steve Downie has been a force. If the Avs can get solid goaltending over the next month, they can make a run.

3 Key Games:

March 17 at Rangers: It's a non-conference game, but it caps a string of three games in four nights on the East Coast. 

March 26 vs. San Jose: This could be a chance to move up against a team they're chasing.

March 30 at Calgary: Two teams jockeying for playoff positioning in the Avs' final road contest.

10. LOS ANGELES KINGS (29-23-12, 70 points, 18 games remaining)

Position: 1 point out of eighth place, even in games with Dallas

Chasing 91 points: As of March 1, it's projected that 91 points is what it will take to earn the eighth seed. The Kings need to finish 10-7-1 to get to that mark. The Kings would likely lose a tiebreaker if the Stars also have 91 points, so they would need to go 11-7-0 in that scenario to reach 92 points.

Getting healthy?: Simon Gagne has dealt with a concussion all season. His status for the rest of the season is up in the air.

Outlook: The schedule isn't forgiving in March. The Kings have a pair of four-game road trips and nine games away from Staples Center overall. If they don't get their offense in gear, the playoffs won't be happening.

3 Key Games:

March 11 at Chicago: This is the final game of that first four-game road trip. The outcome could tell a lot about the Kings' fortunes.

April 5-7 vs. San Jose, at San Jose: A home-and-home with the Sharks to close the season. One of these teams could be playing for their postseason lives.

Miikka Kiprusoff
Goalie - CGY
RECORD: 27-19-7
GAA: 2.36 | SVP: 0.921
11. CALGARY FLAMES (28-24-11, 67 points, 19 games remaining)

Position:
4 points out of eighth place, 1 game in hand on Dallas

Chasing 91 points:
As of March 1, it's projected that 91 points is what it will take to earn the eighth seed. The Flames need to finish 12-7-0 to get to that mark. The Flames would likely lose a tiebreaker if the Stars also have 91 points, so they would need to go 12-6-1 in that scenario to reach 92 points.

Getting healthy?:
Forward Lee Stempniak (ankle) is targeting a return in a couple weeks. Center Blair Jones (ankle) could be back for the final two weeks. Forward Mikael Backlund (shoulder) could also return for the final handful of games. Defenseman Chris Butler (thigh laceration) will be back soon.

Outlook:
The Flames play 11 of 19 games at home, where they are 16-10-4. Their success or failure will fall squarely on the shoulders of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who has been trying to carry the team since the All-Star break.

3 Key Games:


March 4 vs. Dallas:
A virtual must-win for the Flames.

March 26 vs. Dallas:
If you thought that game was important, this one will be even more so.

March 30 vs. Colorado:
This game follows a home game against the Kings. If the Flames are are still alive, that three-game stretch is massive.

12. MINNESOTA WILD (28-26-9, 65 points, 19 games remaining)

Position:
6 points out of eighth place, 1 game in hand on Dallas

Chasing 91 points:
As of March 1, it's projected that 91 points is what it will take to earn the eighth seed. The Wild need to finish 13-6-0 to get to that mark. The Wild would likely lose a tiebreaker if the Stars also have 91 points, so they would need to go 13-5-1 in that scenario to reach 92 points.

Mikko Koivu
Center - MIN
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 37
SOG: 105 | +/-: 10
Getting healthy?:  Captain Mikko Koivu (shoulder) has a chance to return before season's end, but had a setback in his recovery recently.

Outlook:
It's pretty bleak. The Wild have been scuffling for months, but their hot start has them in a position where if they close with a flourish, a playoff spot is still within reach.

3 Key Games:


March 4-6 vs. Colorado, at Colorado:
Beating teams ahead of them is crucial for the Wild. A sweep here is almost necessary for staying alive.

March 11 vs. Calgary:
This kicks off a five-game homestand.

13. ANAHEIM DUCKS (27-27-10, 64 points, 18 games remaining)

Position:
7 points out of eighth place, even in games with Dallas

Chasing 91 points:
As of March 1, it's projected that 91 points is what it will take to earn the eighth seed. The Ducks need to finish 13-4-1 to get to that mark. The Ducks would likely lose a tiebreaker if the Stars also have 91 points, so they would need to go 14-4-0 in that scenario to reach 92 points.

Getting healthy?:
  The Ducks lack any major lingering injuries.

Outlook:
The Ducks were on fire for a stretch, but are 3-3-1 in their last seven games. That's fine if you're protecting a playoff spot, not if you're this far back. One bright spot is six of their last 18 games are against teams between eighth place and 12th place.

3 Key Games:


March 2 vs. Calgary:
It's their next game. Failure to win means three losses in a row.

March 3 at Los Angeles:
When you're this far back, your next games are your most important ones.

March 12 at Colorado:
Depending on what happens between now and this game, it could mean everything or nothing to the Ducks.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

Quote of the Day

I came into a team that had 65 points, that was at the bottom of the basement, a team that everybody wrote off as never going to be good. My goal is to go from the very bottom to the very top.

— Forward Brandon Dubinsky on signing a six-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets