As the end of the NHL regular season comes to a close, the race for a playoff spot is heating up. With the Central division teams red hot and the Pacific division teams trending downward, who knows who will come out on top in the West?
The unique trait of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that truly anyone can win. Last year the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals being 2 and 3 seeds which shows anyone can win once you are in. Who are the true contenders that have a chance to hoist the cup at the end of the year? This is the question on every hockey fans’ mind.
The teams that will be coming out of the Western Conference are nearly figured out at this point but not final with a decent amount of games left in the regular season. The teams that look to be most likely in for the Central division include the Stars, Blues, Blackhawks, and Predators. The Central also might produce both wild card teams with the final wild card going to the Wild or Avalanche. The likely playoff teams to come out of the Pacific division will include the Kings, Ducks, and Sharks.
Six of the seven teams in the Central division have a winning streak of two or more wins, and three of those teams have more than a two game winning streak. The only team trending downward in the division is the Chicago Blackhawks. The once hot Blackhawks, have lost six of their last seven, most of the games coming against division rivals.
The Dallas Stars on the other hand cannot be slowed down, and even with the crafty center Tyler Seguin being out 3-4 weeks it didn’t look good, not so long ago. Winning three of their last four the Stars hold the lead in the Western Conference. Nipping at the Stars’ heels are the St. Louis Blues, only trailing 2 points with the same amount of games remaining. Don’t be surprised if they are first at the end of the season. Yet, the Blues are a known for being a regular season team, and being knocked out early in the playoffs.
The Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche are in a tight race for the final playoff spot, and we will have to wait and see who is going to get hot when they need to.
The Pacific is more clear as to how it may play out, with three teams who have separated themselves from the pack. Leading the three is the Los Angeles Kings who have lost their last three but are not surprisingly leading the division in points. Right behind them are the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks both teams capable of advancing far into the playoffs. If I had to predict out of the two who will go the farthest I would have to say the Ducks. The Ducks have the experience and have that physical edge that can wear teams down in a playoff series.
The Eastern Conference is going to be very entertaining to watch down the stretch because it is difficult to tell who is in and who is out. You could say that eleven teams have a chance to come out of the Eastern Conference. The only team that is certain to be in the playoffs, is the nearly unbeatable Washington Capitals, as they look to take home the Presidents trophy.
The Washington Capitals are leading the league with 109 points with no team even close. The Caps are known to choke in the playoffs, but can Ovi (Alexander Ovechkin) come away with his first Stanley Cup? The Rangers, Penguins, and Islanders are favorites to join the Capitals in the playoffs. If it plays out this way, it would be the same four Metropolitan teams advancing just like last year.
I believe the Atlantic Division is the weakest of the four divisions. After the top two teams, Lightning and Panthers, the talent really drops off. Yes, the Lightning and Panthers are great teams that have dominated in the league this year, but no one else in the division has proved themselves. The Boston Bruins have been shaky at times and the Detroit Red Wings have been struggling to string together wins.
With only two weeks left in the regular season the playoffs are shaping up to be a great six weeks of competition with only one team being able to call themselves 2016 Stanley Cup Champions.