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Thursday, February 16, 2012

NHL Western Conference Playoff Picture

Yesterday we examined the Eastern Conference playoff picture and it is very interesting indeed. Stats and current performance indicate that an underdog (who happens to be in sixth spot right now) could come out of the Eastern Conference and might even go all the way and win the Stanley Cup—check out the article to see which team.

Today, let us take a look at how the Western Conference is shaping-up. I am going to repeat the top part of yesterday’s article which explains how the playoff positions are determined and how the teams are matched in the playoffs. Then I shall present the current Western Conference standings as of the morning of Thursday, February 16th. Finally, I will comment on the performance of the teams and state who I believe will comprise the eight who will be playoff-bound. If you disagree please leave a comment and tell me why.

The top teams in each of the three Western Conference Divisions (Central, Northwest, and Pacific) are automatically seeded 1, 2 and 3 in the standings and all will make the playoffs no matter what. Then the top five other teams in points make the playoffs too.

In the playoffs the #1 seed plays the #8 seed, the #2 seed plays the #7 seed, the #3 seed plays the #6 seed, and the #4 seed plays the #5 seed. The highest seed always gets home ice advantage. The same type of procedure is carried over into the 2nd Round and the 3rd Round; and, then the winner of the Western Conference goes to the Stanley Cup Finals to meet the winner of the Eastern Conference. 

NHL Western Conference Standings as of Thursday, February 16.

Detroit Red Wings:  58 games played and 80 points. Central Division leader and #1 seed.

Vancouver Canucks:  57 games played and 78 points. Northwest Division leader and #2.

San Jose Sharks:  54 games played and 68 points. Pacific Division leader and #3.

St. Louis Blues:  56 games played and 75 points. Central Division.

Nashville Predators:  57 games played and 72 points. Central Division.

Chicago Blackhawks:  57 games played and 65 points. Central Division.

Los Angeles Kings:  57 games played and 65 points. Pacific Division.

Phoenix Coyotes:  57 games played and 63 points. Pacific Division.

Calgary Flames:  57 games played and 62 points. Northwest Division

Colorado Avalanche:  58 games played and 60 points. Northwest Division

Dallas Stars:  56 games played and 59 points. Pacific Division.

Minnesota Wild:  56 games played and 58 points. Northwest Division

Anaheim Ducks:  57 games played and 57 points. Pacific Division.

Edmonton Oilers:  56 games played and 50 points. Northwest Division

Columbus Blue Jackets:  57 games played and 40 points. Central Division

Okay, now I would like to share what I am seeing and my predictions regarding which eight teams will be in the Western Conference playoffs.

It is obvious that Detroit, Vancouver, and St. Louis will be in the playoffs, and so will Nashville and San Jose barring a complete collapse. San Jose is currently the #3 seed (or 3rd seed if you prefer it stated that way) as the leader of the Pacific Division; however, they could be overtaken if they falter and the Kings or Coyotes put together some winning streaks. Yet, even if that highly unlikely event occurred the Sharks will most assuredly make the playoffs because they have only played 54 games and still have 68 points (which is currently good for 5th in the Conference). 

That leaves us with three playoff spots open out of the eight and the teams in contention to get those are the Kings, Coyotes, Blackhawks, Flames, Avalanche, Stars, Wild and Ducks. The Oilers and Blue Jackets are out of the race.

In my opinion, the Kings and Coyotes are going to take hold of two of the last three spots. Despite Chicago’s terrible losing streak (1-8-1) they could recover and get the last spot—I hope not. If they do get into the playoffs, four of the five teams in the Central Division will be playoff-bound. Only Columbus will have fallen short, far short.

Anaheim is on another winning streak and is only 6 points behind Phoenix, 8 points behind Los Angeles, and 8 points behind Chicago. All four teams have played 57 games. If the Ducks continue to improve they can overcome the deficit and make the playoffs. Selanne and Perry are leading the team while Getzlaf has been coasting almost the entire year, and that explains his disgraceful -13 stat. Chicago will meet the Blue Jackets and the Wild two more times each and that is in the Hawks favor, but they are in a slump and it is sometimes hard to break out of one.

In my opinion, the Flames, Stars, Avalanche and Wild do not have enough firepower to win enough games and make the playoffs.

Can an underdog win the Western Conference? I checked stats on the Kings, Coyotes, Ducks and Blackhawks to see how these four teams have played this year against the Red Wings, Canucks, Blues and Sharks. I was actually a little surprised at some of the results.

Los Angeles Kings

Kings vs. Red Wings – 2-0 in games for the Red Wings.

Kings vs. Canucks – 2-1 in games for the Kings.

Kings vs. Blues – 2-1 in games for the Kings.

Kings vs. Sharks – 2-1 in games for Sharks (although last game was a SO)

Phoenix Coyotes

Coyotes vs. Red Wings – 3-1 in games for the Red Wings (some close games here).

Coyotes vs. Canucks – 2-0 in games for the Canucks.

Coyotes vs. Blues – 2-0 in games for the Blues.

Coyotes vs. Sharks – 2-1 in games for the Coyotes.

Anaheim Ducks

Ducks vs. Red Wings – 3-0 in games for the Red Wings.

Ducks vs. Canucks – 2-1 in games for the Ducks.

Ducks vs. Blues – 1-1

Ducks vs. Sharks – 3-1 in games for the Ducks.

Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks vs. Red Wings – 1-1

Blackhawks vs. Canucks – 2-1 in games for Canucks

Blackhawks vs. Blues – 1-1

Blackhawks vs. Sharks – 2-1 in games for Blackhawks.

After considering the stats, Chicago or Phoenix could give Detroit a problem in the 1st Round. If it is Phoenix again it will not be near as easy as last year because Mike Smith will play a lot better than Bryzgalov did last year. Bryzgalov’s performance in that series was one of the worst ever. We must consider that the Sharks have knocked-off the Red Wings two years in a row and they could meet again in Round 2. The Sharks are the biggest threat to the Red Wings, and the Blackhawks are another threat and could meet the Wings in the 1st Round. The Red Wings have handled the Canucks this year so the Canucks had better hope that the Sharks take care of them.

Chicago would give Vancouver a major problem just as they have done for the last three years. The Canucks should be able to overcome anyone else in the 1st and 2nd Rounds. In the regular season Anaheim has proven troublesome for the Canucks, both last year and this year.

The Blues could be beaten by Los Angeles, Anaheim or Chicago.

In my opinion, either Detroit or Vancouver will win the Western Conference; however, there are some real possibilities for upsets as confirmed by the stats.

Just like last year it is a war to see who will get the last three playoff spots in the West. May the best teams win!

TJ Stanley