By Amanda DiPaolo
Only six points separates the fourth place Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference standings with the 11th place Minnesota Wild. Only two points separate 11th from a playoff position.
In the Western Conference only one thing is certain, the Vancouver Canucks will win the Conference if not the President’s Trophy. While mathematically it is entirely possible for the Central Division or Pacific Division winners to come first in the West, it is unlikely, despite Vancouver’s less than stellar play as of late.
Before Sunday night’s match against Anaheim, the Canucks were 5-5 in their last 10 games. In fact, in their previous 12 games, the team had no back-to-back wins going win, loss, win, loss…you get the picture.
The Pacific Division title is wide open. San Jose has a four point lead over Phoenix, five points over Dallas, six over LA and seven over Anaheim. The Sharks and Coyotes would have to face a serious late-season skid for the other teams to pull out in front, but it will be close and there is a good chance all five teams will make the playoffs.
The Central Division seems to be locked down by Detroit. Chicago is six points back. Columbus and St. Louis are out of realistic playoff contention, forget the division title. And Nashville is 11 points back, fighting for their playoff lives. So, again, as has been the case for years and years, the Central Division will belong with either the Detroit Red Wings or the Chicago Blackhawks.
Even the fourth place Blackhawks, however, are only four points out of 9th place. Which teams will make the top 8 and which will not are anybody’s guess.
Take Chicago and Dallas for example.
Chicago, a team that struggled in the early part of the season, has won their last 8 games. Rookie netminder Corey Crawford has established himself as a Calder Trophy contender.
Dallas, a team that lead the Pacific Division for most of the season, is 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and is only 2 points ahead of 9th place Anaheim. The Stars have a killer schedule coming up in the next couple of weeks. Next week, they play LA twice, as well as Minnesota and Calgary. These are all four point games because each team is in the same position Dallas is in, fighting for their playoff lives. The following week the Stars face Chicago, San Jose and Philadelphia. No easy wins in the horizon for Dallas.
With each team down to their last 15 or 16 games of the season, the playoffs in the West have basically begun.
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