The 30-Day Challenge
One month. One month from now, it will all be sorted out. Sixteen teams will be left standing – some may be wobbling, but they’ll still be around – while the also-rans, coulda-beens and never-weres will finally be put to rest.
Teams are down to their final 10-12 games and, in reality, it’s basically a nine-team race in each conference for eight playoff spots.
And if Buffalo in the East (3-4-3 in their last 10 and on a three-game losing skid) and Nashville in the West (4-4-2 and also coming off a loss) are going to make a late charge…well, they might want to get on that.
Time's a-wastin’. And both the Sabres and Preds could use the playoff action to satisfy the home fans as well as the bottom line. Not to mention, both clubs have real potential to pull off an upset.
Hot and Cold
A pair of teams headed in opposite directions in the Western Conference are the San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild.
The Sharks beat the Wild 3-2 Sunday night (in a shootout) for San Jose’s ninth win in a row – boy, that Brian Campbell pickup at the trade deadline is looking pretty brilliant right now.
The Sharks, the hottest team in the NHL, sat fourth in the conference and were just a point back of Pacific Division-leading Dallas (and San Jose had three games in hand).
While the Sharks scored more than three goals only twice in its nine-game winning streak, the good news was they also allowed a mere 16 goals against in that stretch. They were winning by close, playoff-style scores of 2-1 and 3-2; now, if the Sharks can just do that in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s decision was the Wild’s fourth straight loss. At least Minnesota has picked up a couple of points; its past two defeats both came in the shootout.
In the ultra-tight Northwest Division (and Western Conference), though, late-season losing streaks are costly.
On Monday, the Wild held the conference’s No. 3 seed as the Northwest Division leader. On Tuesday, they were in sixth place – and just one point up on No. 7 Vancouver and No. 8 Colorado (both of which are division foes). And the ninth-place Preds were just three points back.
Fantasy Playoff Match-ups
No, the playoffs don’t start today, but if they did...
•There’d be an Original Six matchup with the East’s No. 2, Montreal, taking on No. 7 Boston. That rivalry is about as old school as it gets; plus, maybe Saku Koivu could scoot between Zdeno Chara’s legs for some fun and goals.
•The Pittsburgh Penguins, which fell in five games to Ottawa in the first round last season in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s first playoff foray, would get another crack at them. There’s a bit of a different vibe this season, though, wouldn’t you say? The Pens kept winning while Crosby was hurt, while the Sens have been free-falling for a month or more.
•How appropriate. The Detroit Red Wings, still with a core of players from their late-1990s glory days plus the recent addition of old Wing Darren McCarty, would face late-’90s rival Colorado – which, of course, just welcomed back Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote. (And Joe Sakic never left, save for a prolonged stretch on the injured list this season.) What do you say, Steve Yzerman and Patrick Roy? What about one more kick at the team you used to love to hate?
•Dallas and Vancouver, which combined for about six goals in the Canucks’ seven-game Round 1 series win last season, would again square off. This year, you have to like the Stars.
•And, a killer of a first round series is setting up between California rivals Anaheim (no. 4) and San Jose (No. 5). So, maybe one team wins the Stanley Cup, while the other is a first round bust. The West is one tough son-of-a-gun conference.
Sam McCaig’s From The Point appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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