With a little over two and a half weeks to play in the NHL season, one can officially say the drive for playoff positioning is in full gear. And nothing is set in stone yet.
What looked to be as good as locked up a couple of weeks ago has now shifted, leaving one to ponder, who is in, where will they be placed and who is out in the NHL’s wild wild west.
Let’s begin with the (44-25-4, 92 points) San Jose Sharks. Conventional wisdom across much of the NHL has the Sharks finishing somewhere between five and seven in the West. But as the introduction states, a lot can happen in these final two and half weeks. The Sharks major goal, although it would be difficult, would have to be catching the Ducks.
The Ducks have played lights out throughout the year and have led the Pacific Division from start to now, they could still falter down the stretch leaving some bait for the Sharks to gobble up. Catching the Ducks, who currently sit in the two seed position with 98 points, would be quite a feat though with the current six point deficit.
The Sharks are in the mist of a tough east coast swing in which they will face the (39-25-10) Atlanta Thrashers and last year’s Stanley Cup Champions the (36-29-8) Carolina Hurricanes.
Both teams, like the Sharks, are fighting for playoff positioning. In fact, the Hurricanes are currently in a three way tie for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
In total, the Sharks will face five more teams with records of .500 or better this season, while the Ducks face only four. An uphill battle, yes, but this is the NHL once again and anything can happen.
Nashville currently sits in the coveted first spot with 100 points, but the Red Wings, who recently beat Nashville in back-to-back games, trail closely behind at 99.
As for strengths of schedules? The favor here goes to first the Red Wings, with just three games remaining versus .500 and above teams, next the Ducks, with the previously mentioned four, and finally the Sharks with five games remaining versus team with an above .500 mark.
Nashville must face six teams with a .500 or above mark, making it a much more difficult road to the first seed.
One cannot forget about the Dallas Stars however, who currently sit in the seventh spot with 91 points. Making their road a bit more manageable however is the fact that they must face only four more opponents sitting at .500 or better.
With Team Teal boasting a league best (23-13-1) road record, opening the playoffs somewhere other than HP Pavilion might not be the worst thing.
Looking into the crystal ball at who might be the eight seed? A couple of weeks ago the answer was limited to four teams, with those being Minnesota, San Jose, Dallas, and Calgary. However, as quickly as one would take their eyes off the road, one more appears.
And that one is the Colorado Avalanche. All but forgotten, the Avs have moved within six points of the currently 8th seeded Calgary Flames.
Colorado has a bit of another advantage seeing as they have a game in hand at 72 games played to the Flames 73. A win in that game would put the hungry Avalanche just four back of Calgary, and as Sharks fans witnessed the other night, any team with Joe Sakic is going to be hungry and dangerous. Adding to the Colorado cause is the fact that there are two needed games against the Calgary Flames.
Where does that leave the Sharks? With a comfortable lead on both the Avalanche and the Flames, the Sharks would most likely fall at worst to the seventh spot in the West.
This is due to the fact that the Wild have recently caught fire and won seven games in a row, moving them into the Western Conference’s fifth spot. Even more impressive is the fact that the Wild have beaten some formidable opponents in Buffalo, Colorado, Vancouver and Calgary. San Jose does have a game in hand on the Wild.
The Sharks currently sit in the six spot, however, the pesky Stars have a game in hand on San Jose, and a win in that game would propel Dallas into that spot, leaving the Sharks to face off against Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs, if everything stayed as is.
Looking at it from any angle, the Western Conference playoff matchups are still an impossibility to figure out and will still likely be that way until the regular season concludes.