There are currently less than 10 games per team remaining in the NHL season and all focus has turned to the playoff push. Though the team’s in question of making it to the playoffs will most likely be lower seeded or wildcard teams, hockey fans only must look as far as last season to know the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a whole other game. In the NHL, if you can get to the playoffs, the Stanley Cup is always in play. This means the last few weeks of regular season hockey loom large for teams just a few points in or out of a playoff spot. The West is slightly more cramped than the East with five teams within four points. These are my Western Conference predictions for which bubble teams get a chance to fight for the Hockey’s biggest prize.
Western Conference NHL Wildcard Predictions
IN: 3rd Pacific Division – Anehiem Ducks (Current Point Total: 88pts)
Of the five teams fighting for the final three western conference playoff spots, Anaheim looks like the best of the bunch. The Ducks were riddled with injuries to start the season but have bounced back and look like they’re ready for another run to the Conference Finals. They also have the advantage of only having to outplay the Kings if they want to get into the playoffs. The Ducks enter Friday on a four-game winning streak and have gone 7-3 in their last 10 outings.
This has been largely on the play of their captain Ryan Getzlaf and starting goalie John Gibson. Getzlaf has put up an impressive 56 points in the 49 games he has played and if not for his injury in November, could be making himself an argument for the Hart Trophy. Gibson on the other hand, when in the lineup has been dynamic. The 24-year-old has posted a 2.46 GAA and a 0.927 SV% over his 55 games started. He has also only dropped two games since February 15th, with a record of 10-2.
The Ducks finish their year with a fairly balanced schedule playing five games against playoff opponents and three against teams already out. Their most crucial game comes at home against LA with the winner likely grabbing an unbreakable hold on the last spot in the Pacific division. Anehiem is the realistic favourite in that game and could be the reason the Ducks lock up a playoff spot early.
IN: 1st Wildcard – Colorado Avalanche (Current Point Total: 88pts)
Similar to the Ducks, the Avalanche have also found a way to have almost every one of their star players get injured at some point in the season. It’s almost shocking that the Avalanche aren’t higher in the standings considering the incredible play of those stars when in the lineup. Nathan Mackinnon has played like a true MVP favourite, Mikko Rantanen might be the breakout star of the year and Tyson Barrie has an insane 0.88 points per game average. Not to mention the recent return of do-it-all defender Erik Johnson.
However, one of the big knocks on the Avalanche is their lack of depth. Past the stars mentioned above and captain Gabriel Landeskog, very few players on the Avalanche even have the capability of getting hot down the stretch. This could be a big disadvantage as they have two games remaining against Vegas and one against the Ducks. Both teams are very strong down the centre of the ice and could provide huge roadblocks if Colorado’s top line can’t cash in.
But it’s still hard to go against the Avalanches big guns. Colorado has scored five or more goals five different times in the month and Mackinnon has had a point in each of the ten games. All the rest of the Avalanche players have to do is not put the puck in their own net and Colorado’s big-three will likely get the rest of the job done. Colorado doesn’t miss the playoffs barring a complete cooldown.
IN: 2nd Wildcard – Los Angeles Kings (Current Point Total: 89)
Everything in the Kings DNA makes me think that they are not a playoff bound team, but given their position with seven games left to play, it is hard to keep them out. LA lacks quality depth up front and on the blueline but has still managed to hold their own all year, currently ranking 3rd in goals against; resulting in a +32 goal differential. The return of Jeff Carter has also helped bring a little bit of spark back into the Kings offence. Carter has eight goals and six assists in the 20 games he’s played and provides a much-needed scoring presence that LA’s second line has lacked in 2018.
The only thing that has really stood out about LA over the whole season has been the tremendous play of captain Anze Kopitar. Kopitar is at times the only player providing offence for the Kings while simultaneously being one of the leagues best (this year’s best) two-way players. His 86 points on the year are a career best, team-high by 30, and good for 7th in league scoring. There really isn’t much Kopitar can’t do.
The Kings will get into the playoffs simply because the other teams chasing them don’t have the time to catch them. LA currently sit a point up on the Ducks and have four-point playoff cushion. Even if there are better teams outside the playoff bracket, the Kings would have to implode during their less than challenging reaming schedule to miss the postseason.
OUT – St Louis Blues (Current Point Total: 85)
Despite sitting three points back of a playoff birth, the road is just to steep for St. Louis to find their way into the playoffs. The Blues currently have two games in hand on LA and one on Colorado and Anaheim. They definitely have room to make a late push but their schedule does not favour them at all.
The biggest hurdle on St. Louis’ schedule is not who they face but rather how they face them. Of St. Louis’ nine remaining games, three series (six games) are back-to-backs, the most challenging being next weekends matchups at Vegas and then in Glendale to face the suddenly sizzling Coyotes. They also have midweek games against the Sharks and Capitals who are both fighting for playoff home-ice advantages.
The Blues have the talent to get into the playoffs but just look a bit too far removed to squeak in. St. Louis get in if one thing happens, they get near flawless goaltending from both Carter Hutton and Jake Allen. With so many back-to-back series, you can’t expect your offence to put up five goals every night and the netminders are going to have to find a way to steal a few wins.
OUT – Dallas Stars (Current Point Total: 84)
As talented as the Stars are, their chances of making the postseason are currently hanging by a thread. Dallas has managed to fix their typical defensive problems but at the same time have had a regression with their scoring offence. The Stars failed to address this problem at the trade deadline and it has reflected in their lack of scoring from players not named Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov or John Klingberg.
Unlike the Blues, the Stars have no games in-hand on any of the three teams they are chasing for the final playoff spots and have a tough schedule. Dallas plays seven of their last eight games against playoff teams, most of which are trying to keep Dallas down in the standings and would likely need to go around 6-1-1 to get a legit shot at the final spot. After this offseasons giant remake, it is going to be hard to watch the Stars miss the playoffs despite all the moves they made to upgrade their team.
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