• NHL: Get ready for a photo finish in the Western Conference playoff race

    As I predicted at the start of the season, the NHL playoff race is intensifying daily. In the Western Conference, the standings have been a discombobulating roller coaster every day for the past two weeks. Things in the Eastern Conference are slightly more stable. Most teams have 7-8 games remaining on their regular schedule. Regardless, here’s a look at the insanity that is the playoff race. This week I’m focusing on the bottom two seeds in the West as well as the ninth and tenth place teams.

    7) Minnesota Wild (22-16-3, 47 points)

    They’ve been a little inconsistent (3-6-1 in their last 10) since that steal of a trade they made with Buffalo right before the trade deadline. New winger Jason Pominville is trying to find his role with a team that already features several other large wingers who have a nose for the goal (see Koivu, Parise, Clutterbuck, Setoguichi, etc).  They have had a pretty consistent offense all year, as they have been able to avoid long goal droughts.  That is a testament to their four-line depth and balanced scoring, which bodes well for a deep playoff run.  They are, in my mind, the darkhorse team in the West right now and if they get hot could challenge any team in the west.

    8) Detroit Red Wings (20-15-7, 47 points)

    The Wings have scraped together 47 points this season. They are noticeably worse without Hall of Famers Tomas Holmstrom and Nick Lidstrom anchoring the club. They are talented for sure, but they have lost that intimidating edge they used to wield, especially on their home ice at “The Joe.” If they don’t move up in the standings, they’ll be in for nasty meeting with the Blackhawks in the first round. Jimmy Howard will need to be flawless for them to have a chance. Good luck!

    9) Dallas Stars (21-17-3, 45 points)

    They have been playing incredibly inspired hockey since their flurry of trades a couple of weeks ago. The insertion of young and hungry legs has really improved their game in all areas of late. Rookie 21-year-old winger Alex Chaisson has proven to be a golden nugget for the Stars this late in the year, providing tireless legs and a hot stick.  They have a brutal schedule ahead of them – exclusively playoff contenders from here on out.  They might not get in this year, but they have a bottomless pool of talent waiting down in Cedar Park, Texas.

    10) Columbus Blue Jackets (19-16-7, 45 points)

    They just don’t go away.  Picking up winger Marian Gaborik obviously has helped their offense, which is starting to heat up suddenly. Their MVP is unquestionably goalie Sergei Bobrovski, who boasts a .932 save percentage and a 2.01 GAA. That’s top five in the league and Vezina Award-worthy in my book (except for the unfortunate fact that Columbus is a mid-level market team that could miss the playoffs). Still though, they will be neck and neck with Dallas and Detroit all the way to the end.