If you haven’t been following the wild NHL Western Conference wild-card playoff picture you’re missing out on some pretty exciting hockey news.
Just a Handful of Games Remain
The Western Conference teams involved in the wild-card hunt are the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Arizona Coyotes, Minnesota Wild, and Chicago Blackhawks. The Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks remain with an outside shot at qualifying but with so few games remaining it looks unlikely for them.
All of the statistics are as of games played on March 24, 2019.
Dallas Stars Chances
The Stars looked like they had the first wild-card spot locked up but have only gone 5-4-1 in their last ten games while the season winds down. They also do not have an attractive schedule with a four-game road trip against the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks.
Sitting with 82 points with seven games remaining, there’s no assurances that the Stars will maintain that top wild-card spot. They still have seven games remaining but five are away from home ice.
Prediction: 92 points, first wild-card spot.
Colorado Avalanche Chances
The Avalanche took the first game of a home-and-home series against the streaking Chicago Blackhawks. The ‘Hawks managed an overtime victory Sunday night to stay in the playoff hunt… for now.
The Colorado club has been receiving some excellent goaltending from Philipp Grubauer of late. He has a 5-1 record in his last six appearances including two shutouts. He certainly robbed Jonathan Toews on several occasions to keep his team in the game. They emerged with an overtime victory and now trail the Stars by a single point.
The Avalanche have six games remaining with four being against playoff teams. They do however have four home games left. They are doing all this without the services of their captain Gabriel Landeskog who is not due back until late April.
Prediction: 85 points, missing the playoffs.
Arizona Coyotes Chances
The Arizona Coyotes have chosen the wrong time of year to lose five straight games (0-3-2) to put themselves in a spot where they need to win four of their last six (along with some help from others) to remain in the last wild-card position.
They just can’t put the puck in the net. They only scored four goals in four games on the four-game road trip. If they can’t get some scoring, goalie Darcy Kuemper can’t keep pulling them close only see them lose.
To put it bluntly, the Coyotes MUST win their next three games against other wild-card contenders to have a shot. They play the Blackhawks at home, the Avalanche in Denver and the Wild at home.
It’s put up or shut up time for this team.
Prediction: 87 points, edging out Colorado for the last spot.
UGH! That’s a tough schedule. That’s why it appears that the Wild will falter and not qualify for the playoffs after being up and down in the standings. They have just a 3-5-2 record in their last 10 games and that doesn’t look good for playing in the postseason.
Prediction: 83 points, missing the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks Chances
The Hawks have seven games remaining, only three at home. One of the biggest will be against their favorite trading partner, the Coyotes. That should be some game Tuesday night. Both teams will be playing for their playoff lives.
The other factor about this Coyotes versus Blackhawks matchup is that there are plenty of players who were traded to their opposing team which may cause some extreme friction in the game… almost playoff level competition.
The Coyotes will also be out to avenge the pounding they took the last time the two teams met when Chicago embarrassed the Arizona team 7-1.
The Chicago club has a decent 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games to match the Avalanche in this group of teams all vying for just two available wild-card berths. They must play five playoff level teams out of seven games and that may be tough to come out on top.
Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks Chances
As mentioned above these two teams have the slightest chance of qualifying for the playoffs and when you look at their talent it raises some questions.
How can the Oilers, with arguably the best player in the league in Connor McDavid (38 goals, 70 assists) NOT be in the playoffs? By being the seventh worst defensive team, that’s how.
Then, you have the Canucks who will more than likely have the rookie-of-the-year in Elias Pettersson who has an impressive 27 goals, 37 assists in 64 games. Having him out for nine games due to injury did not help the Canucks’ playoff plight.
Prediction: Both teams will finish with 80 points to miss the playoffs.
The Last Word
This has got to be one of the most exciting and closely fought wild-card playoff finishes in the league’s history. What will decide the fate of five of the teams who don’t make it will be the face-to-face games.
One thing is certain, the NHL schedule makers had no idea when they developed the 2018-19 schedule that it would come down to the last seven games by the teams fighting it out to the end.
May the two best teams win.