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McConnell's Blog: Welcome to the Madness

by Matt McConnell / Arizona Coyotes
VANCOUVER -- So, how do you like your March Madness?

If you’re a college basketball fan, you’re a bracketologist. You closely watch a field of 68 teams compete for a national championship. You help drop office productivity to new lows for two weeks during the month. You know nothing about the No. 12 seed in the East Regional, but you pick them in your pool hoping to score an upset and proclaim to your co-workers you had them all the way. You stay up late at night. You watch every game. You hope your co-worker’s alma mater gets smoked in the opening round so you can chirp them over the cubicle wall. It’s an intense madness for sure. It can last a few days, sometimes a few weeks, before it fades into afterthought.

Matt McConnell
Hockey madness can offer up similar side effects with greater staying power. Look no further than the National Hockey League playoff races. That madness starts earlier each season and continues through the spring. Hockey madness shouldn’t be confused with the aforementioned March Madness. No, it’s more like February-March-April-May-June Madness. It cranks up after the All-Star break, builds to a crescendo in early spring and carries on for weeks, right through the Stanley Cup Final.

Its March component includes tight playoff races, including the one that’s currently brewing in the Western Conference.

As of this writing, five teams are separated by one point. The Coyotes are just four points behind third seed Dallas but are only one point above the elimination line. Only one team, the St. Louis Blues, has a point total that’s above the projected cut line of 94 points. Vancouver, Detroit and Nashville are locks to make the post-season, which leaves nine other teams fighting it out for the final four spots.

►Click here to see today's standings.

Go on a five-game win streak and stamp your ticket to the postseason. Lose five or six and start making tee times.

Photo by Getty Images.
For the Coyotes, their fate could very well be decided from the results of their current four-game road trip that has stops in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Dallas. The Canucks are always a tough out. The Flames and Stars are a combined 13-3-4 when calculating the two team’s records over the past 10 games. The Oilers will be loose when the Coyotes roll into Rexall Place on Sunday.

We could dissect the schedules, injury trends and momentum of the rest of the teams in the Western Conference. But in the end, it would be futile since the landscape of the race changes by the day. Sure, scoreboard watching is a fact of life this time of year. We’re all guilty of it. It’s fun for fans and nerve racking for the coaches. But as Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett says all the time about his team, it’s all about their goals and accomplishments and not so much about the opposition’s.

Translation: Play well, keep winning.

Tippett also talks about staying above the mosh pit of teams fighting for playoff spots since it’s a lot tougher this time of season to leap frog squads that are staging the same fight as his own group.

Photo by Getty Images.
Which brings us to Monday’s game against Nashville in which the team stole a point after trailing the Predators by two goals in the third period. Sure, the sloppy-at-times play was frustrating, especially after Saturday’s impressive 3-0 shutout against San Jose. But to battle back and get a point could prove huge in the overall playoff race. And for the time being, it allowed them to stay above that murky pit of playoff wannabes.

Recently, Boston Celtics Head Coach “Doc” Rivers met with the Boston College hockey team as they prepared for the upcoming NCAA hockey tournament. He told the kids to “be a star in your role.” Great advice for any team, especially one like the Coyotes where fit and system compliance often trumps the importance of talent and ability.

So scoreboard watch if you must. I’m sure you will. But never forget that winning is the proven path to the post-season. Those who fail this are shuttled into the off-season.

Welcome to the madness.
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