NHL Western Conference Playoffs Race Analysis
Six Teams Still in Running for Postseason
Final Four Playoff Spots up for Grabs
The Eastern Conference playoff field seemed to be set somewhere around the second week of the season. The final of the eight spots in the East was wrapped up recently when the Washington Capitals secured a postseason berth for the eighth season in a row.
It would be an understatement of immense proportions to suggest that things are a little harder to predict in the NHL Western Conference playoffs race.
The Colorado Avalanche already clinched the Central Division title and will be the top seed in Western Conference. The Pacific Division-leading Calgary Flames join the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues as playoff teams.
Six other teams are in contention for the other four spots. The list got a little smaller as Winnipeg’s loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday eliminated the Jets from playoff contention.
About the only thing that seems guaranteed and an NHL best bet is that St. Louis and Minnesota will meet up in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Here’s a look at the teams fighting to join the NHL Western Conference playoffs party.
There was a time when the Edmonton Oilers were looked upon as a team that might come up short once again when it came to the NHL Western Conference playoffs. However, since the start of February, Calgary, Colorado and St. Louis are the only teams in the West with a better record than Edmonton.
The success was done not by just outscoring teams but also by showing improvement on defense. Only Colorado and Calgary have allowed fewer goals per game since Feb. 1 than the Oilers among Western Conference teams.
Edmonton isn’t going to catch Calgary for the Pacific Division title. However, the Oilers headed into Wednesday’s action with a two-point lead over Los Angeles for second place in the Pacific Division. Finishing second would be crucial because it would mean home-ice advantage for the opening series in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Edmonton is a significantly better team at home than on the road and another NHL best bet would have the Oilers favored to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
The Oilers have only two more games on the schedule against teams already in the playoffs. Edmonton, with NHL leading scorer Connor McDavid leading the way, will be a popular pick when NHL Western Conference playoff predictions are made.
Nashville is stumbling down the stretch but is holding down the first wild card spot in the NHL Western Conference playoffs. With 35 regulation wins, the Predators are in good shape when it comes to the playoff tiebreakers.
The Predators are just 5-4-1 since the start of April. Nashville didn’t look much like a playoff team during an 8-3 loss to St. Louis on Sunday. The Predators did rebound to edge Pacific Division-leading Calgary 3-2 in a shootout to pick up two key points.
The schedule down the stretch is brutal. It started with Tuesday’s game against Calgary, the first of of five straight against playoff teams before ending the season against Arizona.
Being matched up with a Colorado Avalanche team expected to get star players Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and Devon Toews back in time for the playoffs isn’t an ideal reward for clinching an NHL Western Conference playoff spot. However, if the postseason started right now, Dallas would be drawing the NHL-leading Avalanche.
Dallas has played in 38 one-goal games so it certainly has had to fight its way into its current position. The schedule is pretty favorable the rest of the way, including a matchup with a Vegas team trying to make a late charge into the postseason.
The Stars are four points ahead of Vegas and Vancouver in the race for the second wild card and have a game in hand on both the Golden Knights and Canucks.
Their last two games of the season are against Arizona and Anaheim, two teams eliminated from playoff contention. Dallas seems to be in good shape and could be a popular pick when it comes to making NHL Western Conference playoff predictions.
Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles doesn’t face another playoff team for the rest of the season. The question is whether that will be enough to hold off Vegas and Vancouver, who are five points behind for the third spot in the Pacific Division with a game in hand on the Kings.
The Kings are 18-11-3 since the start of February to build up some breathing room. The regular-season finale against Vancouver could be for a playoff spot. The Kings picked up two key points on Tuesday with a win 2-1 win at Anaheim. The win also pulled the Kings within two points of Edmonton for second place in the division although the Oilers have two games in hand.
The Kings will need to seal the deal without one of its best players as wrist surgery ended the season for veteran defenseman Drew Doughty.
Vegas Golden Knights
When the season started, Vegas was considered one of the top contenders in the Western Conference. Injuries to key players and a lack of goaltending depth caught up to the Golden Knights. In some books, the Golden Knights still have better odds to win the Stanley Cup than teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings.
Forwards Reilly Smith, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone combined to miss 109 games, and Smith is currently sidelined. After trading away Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury, the goaltending situation became an issue when starter Robin Lehner was limited to a total of six games in February and March.
A recent loss to New Jersey could be what costs Vegas a spot in the playoffs. Ending the regular season against a red-hot St. Louis team could be a make-or-break contest for Vegas.
The Golden Knights fell five points out of third place in the Pacific Division after Los Angeles topped Anaheim on Tuesday.
Eleven of the 12 teams with the best records since Dec. 6 have clinched playoff spots. The lone exception is the Vancouver Canucks.
Dec. 6 was the day when Travis Green was let go as the Vancouver head coach and Bruce Boudreau was brought in as his replacement.
Since that time, Vancouver is 30-13-7 including 6-0-2 in April to keep its playoff hopes alive. An overtime loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night did give the Canucks a point. However, squandering an early-two goal lead could prove costly at a time when every point in the standings is so pivotal.
An 8-15-2 record at the time of the coaching change left so much room for the Canucks to make up. Beginning the season by going 3-6-2 in its first 11 one-goal games put Vancouver in a tough spot.
Let’s Talk Matchups
If the playoffs started right now, here are the matchups:
Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars
Calgary Flames vs. Nashville Predators
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings
On the outside looking in: Vegas Golden Knights, Vancouver Canucks.