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Ranking the schedules: Western Conference

by Corey Masisak
Strength of schedule could play a factor in who claims the final playoff spots in both conferences as well as the final seeding. Determining the actual strength of schedule at this time of year can also be tricky -- some great teams might have little to play for while some non-playoff teams might be playing really well.

With that in mind, here's an attempt to rank the remaining schedules for teams in fifth through 10th place in each conference from toughest to easiest (Phoenix and Pittsburgh aren't locks to make the playoffs, but the Penguins could clinch a spot Friday night and the Coyotes are close to being safe at this point). Here's the rankings for the Western Conference (check out the Eastern Conference here):

1. Dallas (38-25-10, 86 points)

Home: Columbus, Colorado
Road: Nashville, Phoenix, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Colorado, Minnesota

Analysis: Seven road games, including five against teams currently in front of them. Best bet might be to try and steal 3-4 points in those first five road games and then sweep the final four.

2. Anaheim (41-28-5, 87 points)

Home: Chicago, Calgary, Dallas, San Jose, Los Angeles
Road: Colorado, San Jose, Los Angeles

Analysis: No other team on this list has to play seven games against the 10 teams still in the hunt in the West. Toss in those home-and-homes with rivals San Jose and Los Angeles, and a postseason berth for the Ducks is far from a given at this point.

3. Chicago (40-25-8, 88 points)

Home: Anaheim, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Detroit
Road: Detroit, Boston, Columbus, Montreal, Detroit

Analysis: Seven games against current playoff teams, but three are against the Eastern Conference and the West has dominated crossover games this season (Chicago is 9-4-2). This slate nudges ahead of the Kings' schedule because of three games against Detroit and an extra set of back-to-backs.

4. Los Angeles (42-26-6, 90 points)

Home: Colorado, Dallas, Phoenix, Anaheim
Road: Edmonton, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim

Analysis: Three games against the top four in the West (inclduing a trip to Vancouver while the Canucks are still trying to seal the top seed and Presidenst's Trophy) plus a home-and-home with archrival Anaheim when the Ducks might be desperate to secure a postseason berth.

5. Nashville (40-25-10, 90 points)

Home: Dallas, Vancouver, Detroit, Atlanta, Columbus
Road: Colorado, St. Louis

Analysis: Seven home games and two on the road against non-contenders (basically the opposite of Dallas) -- even if they lose the three against the top-nine clubs, they can still win the four against non-contenders and be safely in the playoffs.

6. Calgary (37-28-11, 85 points)

Home: Anaheim, Edmonton, Vancouver
Road: Edmonton, St. Louis, Colorado

Analysis: Good news: The Flames clearly have the easiest schedule, with four games against teams not in the mix (including all three road contests) and a game against the Canucks when they will likely have the West wrapped up. Bad news: They probably need to win all six.
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