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Off The Post: A Guide to Wednesday's Scoreboard Watching

by Luke Lapinski / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE -- The Coyotes have five games left in the regular season and everyone has a headache. Not because of the stress of an NHL playoff race, but rather from trying to figure out all of the possible scenarios that can play out over the next week and a half. Six teams in the Western Conference are essentially fighting for three playoff spots at the moment -- four of which can still win the Pacific Division. And just for fun, everyone is separated by a grand total of three points.

Luke Lapinski
So what is a fan supposed to do? One night, you need a team to lose; the next night, you want them to win because they’re playing somebody you need to lose more. It’s tough to know what you’re even cheering for at this point without having a specialized computer program and/or a descendant of Albert Einstein nearby to navigate you through all the possible impacts of each game. We don’t have that, so instead you get my own personal guide. Tonight is a big night in this race, as all five teams except Phoenix are in action. If you’re a Coyotes fan, what follows is what you want to happen. In the coming days, this could become more difficult than the math proof that Matt Damon solved on the chalkboard outside of Professor Lambeau’s MIT classroom in Good Will Hunting…

Los Angeles (86 points) at Calgary (85) – Right off the bat, we have the always popular two-teams-that-are-right-around-the-Coyotes-in-the-standings-playing-against-each-other game. In theory, that’s a good thing. One of them has to lose. And in this case, you want the team lower in the standings to win because that helps the Coyotes keep their fate in their own hands -- all you can really ask for at this point in the season. The Flames are like that relative who shows up at your house, then just never leaves. Thanksgiving is over, yet they’re still sleeping on the couch. Every time it seems like Calgary is dropping out of the race, Miikka Kiprusoff makes 45 saves in a game or Curtis Glencross scores a goal every night for two weeks. They’re still very much alive. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has spun its wheels for most of the season but seems to be coming together at the right time. With the way Jonathan Quick has performed in net this year, they’re dangerous if they can muster even two goals in a game. Best possible outcome? Calgary wins. IN REGULATION. I think.

Dallas (87) at Edmonton The Oilers are a fun team to watch when everyone’s healthy. Unfortunately for them -- and anyone who wants Dallas to lose tonight -- Taylor Hall is done for the year. They could still pull off the upset at home, and that’s exactly what the Coyotes are hoping for. The Stars aren’t overloaded with talent by any means, but they have an interesting mix of impressive goaltending -- courtesy of Kari Lehtonen -- and a few dangerous weapons up front. You’re rooting for Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tonight though. In regulation, of course.

Colorado (86) at Vancouver If the Flames are the relative that won’t go away, the Avalanche are that relative’s kid. You have to credit this team for hanging around all season long, despite having one of the younger rosters in the NHL. There were questions in net coming in, but Semyon Varlamov seems to have calmed those concerns down for the time being. Meanwhile, Matt Duchene entered the 2011-12 campaign as arguably their best player, but has had his worst year. The reason they keep winning? Gabriel Landeskog. If he doesn’t take home rookie of the year honors someone messed up the voting. Best case scenario tonight is a win by the Canucks. In regulation. “Looouuu…”

San Jose (88) at Anaheim – The Sharks may have underachieved all year but, much like a top-seeded basketball team in March Madness, they seem to be turning it on when it counts. Meanwhile, the Ducks sort of just fell off the planet in the first half and I think they’re still in orbit. They do like beating their Northern California rivals though. Against San Jose, Anaheim is 4-1 this season. Phoenix needs them to pull it off again tonight. In regulation (Note: if the Sharks do win this game, however, you want it to go 47 rounds deep into the shootout as the Coyotes host them 24 hours later at Arena).

There you have it: the timeless art of scoreboard watching. And get used to it. After Thursday, all of the Coyotes’ remaining regular-season games are against teams that are either already in the playoffs or already out. In other words, no more four-point opportunities. That means must-win games for Dave Tippett’s group and must-see TV around the league.
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