With the season in the final stretch drive, we are again seeing a fierce competition for playoff positioning, but this year, there is more drama around what seed that teams will receive rather than whether a club will make the playoffs or not, at least as far as the Western Conference is concerned.
Only Colorado holds a slim chance to qualify for post-season action, among Western teams. As of this writing, the Avalanche trail 8th place Calgary by seven points with six games to play. A 3-0 loss at home against Vancouver on March 27th has proved to be a pretty devastating blow to their chances, but it is still possible for Colorado to get in.
Unfortunately for the Avalanche, the possibility is only mathematical, because the Calgary Flames are on fire. Winners of four straight at press time, Jim Playfair’s charges are beginning to get together at the right time for them and the wrong time for Joe Sakic, Joel Quenneville and the boys in the Mile High City. One of the top home teams in the NHL, they play a game vs. Colorado at the Saddledome on April 3rd, and if they manage to get a single point in that game, Colorado’s chances will flame out.
Even with two regulation wins against the Flames, it’s going to be tough for Colorado. Let’s say that Calgary, for instance, goes 2-4-0 in their final six games, with all four of their losses coming in regulation. Colorado would have to go 5-0-1 in their final six contests to win out. As you can see, that loss vs. the Canucks hurt them badly.
In the Eastern Conference, Carolina is fighting for its life, and recently, they’ve been acting like someone taking punches from Muhammad Ali in Round 12 or 13. While they didn’t play like that in a win against the Sharks on March 24th, they have had a couple of tough losses and are hanging by a thread. If they miss the playoffs, it would mark the first time in the 89-year history of the League that both teams in the previous Stanley Cup Final have failed to qualify for the playoffs in the next season – a feat that the Hurricanes want to avoid. I, for one, think that they will.
But there are more possibilities here. As of this writing, only three points separate six teams, ranked 6th through 11th in the East. The teams are the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, and New York Islanders. It’s going to be a race down to the wire.
On the individual player front, Sidney Crosby of the Penguins has a lead over the Sharks own Joe Thornton
in the race for the Art Ross Trophy. Here’s hoping that Joe will catch Sid the Kid, but not at the expense of anything that could happen in the postseason.
The same goes for silver that could be due Big Joe when it comes time for Hart Trophy consideration and for Curtis Brown when it comes to the Masterton Trophy. However, let’s not forget that a Stanley Cup Championship is far more important than the Art Ross, Hart or Masterton Trophy.
When it comes to the Stanley Cup, the Sharks have what it takes to win the whole thing. They’ll need a combination of perseverance, intestinal fortitude and a few good bounces of the puck to do it, and when it’s over, it will all be worth it.
For Seagate Technology’s “In the Crease,” I’m Dan Rusanowsky.