Wild Western Conference: Injuries Edition

We’ve put together a quick and simple view of the teams locked in this close Western Conference playoff chase. We’ve been updating it twice a week, but with the season ending on Saturday, we’ll set up the final week now.

We previously conceded the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Vegas Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks to the list of teams who are in. We said the Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars aren’t going to make it, leaving five teams fighting for the remaining four playoff spots.

Our table indicates the points each team has and provides a projected season total, based on each team averaging one point per game in each remaining game. When we started this on Mar. 15, eight teams were projected within six points. The five teams left now project within four points of each other.

Western Conference playoff chase standings through Apr. 1, 201

Overall, the five teams were strong, combining for 13 points in 10 games. There were two head-to-head games within this group and both went into overtime. It was tough times on the injury front, with three top-tier defensemen and two starting goalies exiting. Injuries to these key players make the final week of the playoff chase unpredictable.

Notable Events, Mar. 29-Apr. 1

This was the Ducks chance to make a move, with a pair of four-point games, first against the Kings and then against the Avalanche. It was another a great battle with the Kings, ultimately decided in overtime. Rickard Rakell got the game-winner in the Ducks 2-1 win. Against Colorado, the Ducks trailed 3-1, but scored a pair of third-period goals and, once again, won in overtime. Starting Ducks goalie John Gibson left the game with an injury. Ryan Miller finished the last two periods and overtime against Colorado backup Jonathan Bernier. Ducks Defenseman Cam Fowler also joined the injury parade.

The Kings overtime loss to the Ducks was the second game of a back-to-back. In the first game on Thursday, they beat a much-improved Arizona Coyotes team, 4-2, behind Jeff Carter’s natural hat trick.

The Wild had a chance to lock up a playoff spot with back-to-back games against the reeling Dallas Stars. On Thursday, the Wild took care of business, winning 5-2. The Wild scored once short-handed, twice on the power play and once into an empty net. Wild defenseman Matt Dumba had a four-point game, the first time it’s been done by a defenseman in franchise history. The teams went at it again in Dallas on Saturday and it went badly. Very badly. Not only did the Wild lose by a 4-1 score, but they may have lost their brilliant defenseman, Ryan Suter, to a leg injury. Suter’s loss is further complicated by injuries to two fellow Wild blueliners, Gustav Olofsson (concussion protocol) and Jared Spurgeon (hamstring tear).

Matt Dumba
Matt Dumba (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

The Avs, losers of two games earlier in the week, needed to rebound. And they did against the flailing Chicago Blackhawks, recording a 5-0 win. For most of the game, it was Semyon Varlamov shutting down the Blackhawks. In the third period, Tomas Jurco tumbled into Varlamov, injuring the Avs goalie. So critical to their success, Varlamov is now out for the rest of the season. But the bad news didn’t end there – defenseman Erik Johnson, the team’s leader in average time on ice, was scratched for the game. Afterwards, the reason became clear. He has a fractured patella and is out for the next six weeks. Johnson’s absence puts a ton of pressure on defensemen Tyson Barrie and Patrick Nemeth.

Tyson Barrie, NHL Arbitration, NHL, Colorado Avalanche
Tyson Barrie (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Blues went into the desert for games against Vegas and Arizona, riding a league-high six-game win streak. On Friday against Vegas, it was a tight, well-played game. Each team had to come from behind during regulation and after sixty minutes, it was even at 3-3. Vegas struck quickly in overtime, snapping the Blues win streak. The next day against the Coyotes, the Blues were blown out, 6-0. Stellar defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was minus-four in a game for the first time since 2009. Though not a marquee name, the Blues also lost a blueliner to injury, Jordan Schmaltz, who was hurt against Vegas and missed the game against Arizona.

Four-Point Games

There are games where the five teams go head-to-head, with a potential four-point swing. The schedule makers are probably dancing with joy with how this is playing out. In the final week, every one of these contenders has at least one four-point game. In the final push, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Colorado have two such games each.

Thursday-Sunday Results

Thursday: –

Friday: Los Angeles v Anaheim 2, Los Angeles 1 (OT)

Saturday: –

Sunday: – Anaheim 4, Colorado 3 (OT)

Monday-Saturday Upcoming Games

Monday: – Colorado v Los Angeles

Tuesday: –

Wednesday:  Minnesota v Anaheim

Thursday:  Minnesota v Los Angeles

Friday: –

Saturday:  Colorado v St. Louis