Boys In The Bubble: A Look at the Western Conference Playoff Picture
As the Regular Season enters its final 10 days, there are some teams sitting home, hosed and focusing on Seedings for the Playoffs. There are also those who are All-But-A-Meltdown away from clinching their berth in the Post-Season. Some are out and awaiting the embalmer already. For them, the fight is over. However, the West being the West, we’re left with a number of teams currently in and and around the final Playoff positions, teams who’s fans are nervously eyeing the standings and schedule, feverishly calculating “Magic Numbers” and “Four-Point Games” while keeping tabs on ROW and GD tie-breakers.
BOY does it feel good to not be among those those teams!
The Hawks position ,having clinched about five minutes after the Lockout ended, allows us to cast a jaded eye over the unfortunates currently engaged in the re-enactment of the Battle of the Marne that’s happening further down the table. I suppose I should sympathise, as there, but for the Grace of Hoss, go the Hawks (as I’m sure we all remember from the last couple of seasons). But, on the other hand, I could make a bunch of jokes and take some cheap shots at the contenders… Choices, choices..
So without further ado. here’s your handy Cheer The Anthem Guide To The Bubble. Teams are listed with current Pos/GP/P
Minnesota Wild 6th/43/51
What’s the Story? The Wild can, conceivably, still catch the Canucks and win their Pathetic Division. If they don’t, they’ll be slap bang in the middle of the fight for for the final three places as San Jose and LA grapple over home ice for the first round. Having Caused The Lockout with their amazing FA coup last summer (that Jake Dowell.. he pops up in the strangest places), the Wild are already trying to have their Lutefisk & Eat It: simultaneously praising and over-rating their rookies while also wailing about the devastating injuries that have made them have to play said youngsters.
Why They’ll Make It In: Some of those youngsters are pretty damn good. Jonas Brodin turned out to be the partner to settle Ryan $uter’s early-season yips. And the big injuries are to Matt Cullen (who they had all but given up on) and Dany Heatley, who would have gone missing for the Playoffs anyway (Once A Shark, and all that). Their run in is reasonably gentle, too, with the Flames & Oilers coming to the XCel and the wretched Avs in Denver on the final day.
Why They Won’t: One of the biggest issues with the Wild last year was a lack of secondary scoring (actually more like a Lack Of Scoring in General, but don’t tell Wild fans that: if you want to see regression to mean, try using numbers in their presence) That has persisted this year, to a lesser degree. They thought they’d get some from Turd On Skates Zenon Konopka (0 pts) and Mike Rupp (4 pts). They brought in Jason Pominville at the deadline to address this. His 8 points in 7 games has catapaulted him to 14th on the scoring chart. That bad. Zach Parise is not alone in having to do a lot of heavy-lifting: Josh Harding’s illness (in good news, he’s skating again) has lead to Niklas Backstrom playing 37 games this year. The chances of the poor bastard signing a “Hometown Discount” to stay in St Paul must be reducing with every ice-bath. The Wild also have to play both the Kings and Sha-Arks in their run-in.
St Louis Blues 7th/42/50
What’s the Story? After an uncertain start to the season and amid rumours that the team had Quit on the Coach, the Blues came good and powered their way into the upper-echelons of the West before suffering a late-season wobble.. wait, I’m reading last year’s stats. The evidence of the last couple of Blues games I’ve seen (against the Hawks and last night’s SO win against the Nucks) indicates that the StL Club have, as usual, descended into mindless thuggery against sides that have, you know, “Actual Talent”. The difference between the games being that Vancouver took the bait while Chicago stood back and laughed before crushing them on the scoreboard.
Why They’ll Make It In: Planet Hitch was talking about “Hunger” yesterday, which surely means that any juicy, plump, underperforming Blues (like, say, Patrik Berglund) can expect the team masseur to be rubbing Barbeque Marinade into them soon. Nothing like the sight of Coach munching on a skewer of Swede during the pre-game talk to get a team fired up. Their run in is also pretty nice: potentially difficult games against fellow-hopefuls the Yotes and Stars. followed by a home-amd-home against the Avs, then the Flames and an already-disinterested Hawks on the final day.
Why They Won’t: I have a horrible feeling that the Blues will do enough to cling on to 6th, like a dangling Täint Nügget. But that will lead to them (likely) playing the Nucks in the First Round, in which case I’m laying in the popcorn and getting ready for some serious hilarity. However, their wonderful brand of Shitbaggery could end up costing them against PHX and Dallas.. and wouldn’t it be sweet if the Hawks, while playing Ray Emery at Forward, were to eliminate them on the final day. Think about it for a moment. Now go and have a cold shower. And clean that up, too.
Detroit Red Wings 8th/42/47
What’s the Story? We all kind of saw it coming when the Wings failed to sign $uter or Weber to replace Lidstrom during the summer and then discovered that “Plan B” was “Ian White on the Top Pair”. Detroit, in their final year in the West, are in serious danger of missing the Playoffs for the first time since there were teams in Minnesota and Winnipeg that actually had some history. Try not to laugh too much.
Why They’ll Make It In: It’s Detroit. They’ll Find a Way. Although that mantra is ringing increasingly hollow these days, I expect it to come true. And I, for one, think that the Ultimate Cap on the final year of the old Central/Western (after the Hawks sweeping the Wings in the regular season, winning the Division and walking away with the Conference lead heading into the Post-Season) would be to knock Detroit out in the first round, whatever the cost in terms of Liver Damage and Chewed-On furniture such a series might cause.
Why They Won’t: The Wings have Vancouver, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Dallas in their final six games. Which should be entertaining for the uninvolved. But I still don’t think anyone in Blackhawks nation thinks that we’re done with Detroit yet. This rivallry doesn’t end in a shootout. So there is no “Won’t”
Columbus Blue Jackets 9th/43/47
What’s the Story? The Beej are apparently sick of propping up the League, only to add insult to injury by losing the Draft Lottery to the Oil, and had a wildly successful Trade Deadline, where they offloaded Steve Mason and obtained another out-of-favour Rag in Marian Gaborik. Since then they have been steadily climbing the rankings and now sit just outside the Playoff Picture, albeit with a game more played than Detroit and Dallas. Just goes to show that you can never have too many Slovaks on your Hockey Team (Not you, Tomas.. sit down, And put your helmet back on.)
Why They’ll Make It In: Sergei Bobrovsky continues the fine tradition of “Philly Doesn’t Do Goalies” by playing himself right into the Vezina discussion. Losing AWT Nash and Scott Howson seems to have reinvigorated the team (fancy that). Plus they’re the “Underdog Comes Good” story of the year. You’d have to have a Heart of Stone to root against th… OH GOD, I FORGOT ABOUT AUCOIN AND WIZ.. FUCK THEM.
Why They Won’t: I could just write “Because they’re the Beej” here and everyone would understand. However, to elaborate, our friends in Brolumbus have been less-than-good on the road (7-11-2) and they don’t play at home again until the final game against Nashville. The four road games are against Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Dallas. If the Beej can make it to the Post-Season after that, I’d bet on them to win the whole damn thing
Dallas Stars 10th/42/45
What’s the Story? After seriously reducing their average age (hanging on to 156 year old Ray Whitney mitigates the effect somewhat) by getting rid of Jagr, Morrow & Roy for prospects and picks at the Deadline, everyone assumed that Dallas were Done for this year. Instead they went on a tear that saw them inserted forcibly into the butt-end of the Playoff Picture (sounds painful). However, there are signs that the wheels are coming off. That said, they are likely to still be in the frame enough to be competing hard for the 8th seed.
Why They’ll Make It In: Only famous for doing some solid work and attracting plaudits while the main guy was taking a break, Richard Bachman was eventually returned to obscurity when Stephen King returned from an Undisclosed UBI (are you sure about this? ed) The latest injury to Kari Lehtonen suggests that Bachman is going to have to pull out some more “Running Man” and less “Thinner” to get the Stars in.
Why They Won’t: The Stars are looking increasingly like a team that has ridden a hot streak to an area they didn’t expect to be in. Much like a tourist making a wrong turn in a Detroit neighbourhood and moving from “Godforsaken Hell-Hole” to “Godforsaken Hell-Hole Where They Car-Jack The Ambulances”. The Stars remaining six games are a nightmare of Teams still in contention. They have VAN at home next, then on the road for three against StL, LAK and SJS. Then two final home games against the Beej and the Wings. And if it comes down to a “Winner Takes All” final Reg Season game between the Wings and Stars, well, I know who I’d bet on, if I were a gambler.
Phoenix Coyotes 11th/42/43
Fuck the Yotes.
That is All.
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