The end of the NHL season is just 4 days away and most teams have a pretty solid idea of where they will be finishing…unless they reside in the Pacific Division. In one of the wildest races heading down to the wire that the NHL has seen in years, the Pacific Division still has 4 teams chasing as many as 3 spots, including the division title. No team has clinched a playoff spot yet and only 4 points separate the teams with 2 games to go for each. The standings in the Pacific (Conference Standings in parentheses) are as follows (apologies to the Anaheim Ducks as they are not relevant in this conversation):
(3) Los Angeles Kings – 93 pts, 34 RO wins
(7) Phoenix Coyotes – 93 pts, 34 RO wins
(8) San Jose Sharks – 92 pts, 33 RO wins
(9) Dallas Stars – 89 pts, 35 RO wins
RO wins (regulation and overtime) are included because the first tiebreaker is the amount of games a team has won without requiring a shootout. As the division standings demonstrate, there is a fairly likely chance that a tiebreaker is going to be needed. For that matter, the Kings and Coyotes are tied both in points and in RO wins, moving them along to the next tiebreaker: points earned in games against each other. The Kings just barely edge out the Coyotes by earning 8 points in the series while Phoenix has earned 7.
Tuesday night helped clear up the scenarios slightly, as San Jose beat Dallas, forcing the Stars into must win situations for their last 2 games and Phoenix beat Columbus to keep pace with the Kings. But alas, not a single team in the division has clinched a spot going into Wednesday because Dallas has the tiebreaker on everyone else.
The Kings enter Wednesday in the best shape of any team in the Pacific and with a chance to finally clinch a playoff spot when they play next on Thursday. Los Angeles has powered to an 8-2-1 record in their last 11 games to jump to the top of the division despite facing some hiccups along the way. There was some concern building just a week ago at the heels of 3 games which saw the Kings score a total of 2 goals and suffer 2 losses. The losses were to the Bruins and Canucks, last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, but they were certainly a cause for concern for a team that has had trouble scoring all year. Luckily, Jonathan Quick also managed to steal a game in a 1-0 shootout win against the Blues, proving yet again that he deserves a very long look for the Vezina Trophy. Despite the scoring struggles, the Kings went on to earn 7 of their next 8 possible points to grab a hold of first in the Pacific.
Another issue that Los Angeles now faces is that star forward and potential season savior Jeff Carter has not played since last Wednesday after suffering an injury to his ankle. There were rumors that he could be done for the season, but an MRI revealed that it was just a deep bone bruise. While “a deep bone bruise” may not sound all that bad, it is the same type of injury that kept Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom out for 11 games. Therefore, the Kings cannot be sure when they will have Carter back quite yet, though rumors are abound that he may play in one of the last 2 games.
Despite any injuries, losses, or a complete lack of goal scoring at times, the Kings wake up on Wednesday exactly where they want to be. They are fully in control of their own destiny. They are 1st in the Pacific Division, 3rd in the Western Conference, and play at home tomorrow night against San Jose to kick off a home and home series with the Sharks that will end the season. All that Los Angeles needs on Thursday is 1 point to clinch a playoff spot, though a win is certainly desirable to keep the division lead and 3rd in the Conference. Meanwhile, expect a playoff-worthy effort from San Jose because a win for the Sharks would allow them to clinch their own playoff spot and keep them in the running for the division lead and 3rd in the Conference.
One thing is certain at this point; every game involving the Kings, Coyotes, Sharks, and Stars is must-watch for the rest of the week. Their games will provide early tastes of playoff hockey as the teams jostle for playoff spots and the division title. It is impossible to try and predict where any of these teams will finish, though the odds are heavily against the Dallas Stars making the playoffs unless the Kings sweep the Sharks or vice versa with no overtime play, so sit back and enjoy the frantic race just to get to the race for the Cup!
Here is the rest of the Pacific schedule for the sake of convenience:
Thursday: Dal @ Nas, 8pm ET; SJ @ LA, 10:30pm ET
Friday: Pho @ StL, 7:30pm ET
Saturday: Pho @ Min, 8pm ET; StL @ Dal, 8pm ET; LA @ SJ, 10:30pm ET
Note: Via ESPN, the Kings are 2-1-1 against the Sharks so far this season.