The Phoenix Coyotes’ future in Glendale might be cloudy, but their future on the ice never looked better. Los Angeles Kings may always wonder “what if?” Ryane Clowe didn’t interfere with that puck, but now the Kings and Sharks only have the seventh seed to fight over tonight because the Coyotes just won the Pacific Division thanks to a 4-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild.
Much like another non-traditional franchise, this marks the Coyotes’ first division title. Really, it’s a wonderful peak for the impressive Dave Tippett era.
Of course, there’s a big but: they haven’t won a playoff series under Tippett’s watch just yet. To climb that mountain, they must defeat the sixth-seeded (and star-packed) Chicago Blackhawks as the third seed. Stay tuned for more on that upcoming series.
With the Pacific Division title still up for grabs, it’s unfair to say that the Nashville Predators’ 2-0 win against the Dallas Stars killed the drama of matches like the Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks home-and-home series. Still, the Predators’ pursuit of home ice advantage* sure made things a lot less interesting.
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Update: the Columbus Blue Jackets continue to revel in their role as spoilers; they eliminated the Colorado Avalanche with a 5-2 win.
What it clinched:
Playoff spots for the Phoenix Coyotes, Kings and Sharks.
The Stars would max out at 91 points, so the Predators hammered the final nail in their season. The Avalanche can only get 90, so they’re done too – and against a team that’s far less dangerous (although almost as dangerous lately).
Why there’s still some drama:
Again, the good news is that Pacific – and thus, the third seed – is still up for grabs. (Also, the seventh seed serves as a solid consolation prize.)
Sure, it’s not as thrilling as just about everyone fighting tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot, but notching the No. 3 spot can be a huge advantage – especially if the Vancouver Canucks and/or St. Louis Blues stumble in early playoff rounds. Still, it’s stunning to realize that the Stars could have been right there too if they took care of their late-season business.
* Nashville’s win and Detroit’s 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils means that the Predators only need a point to clinch the fourth seed and the huge (especially in negative way for the Red Wings) home ice advantage in their likely upcoming series. Of course, there’s also a chance the Chicago Blackhawks could slide into the fifth seed; check out this breakdown from On the Forecheck for all the headache-inducing details.
For all the criticism the NHL’s schedule receives, the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks’ home-and-home finale is a slice of brilliance. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty told CSNBayArea.com’s Kevin Kurz that the team would like nothing more than to spoil San Jose’s seemingly solid playoff chances during this duo of duels.
“We definitely want to do whatever we can to knock them out of the playoff picture,” Doughty said. “We want third place, and that’s what we’re going to play for. These two games mean a lot, not only for third place but just being able to push a team like that out of the playoffs is a big momentum boost for us.”
As Doughty points out, spite isn’t necessarily the main fuel driving the Kings. Much like the Sharks, two regulation losses and two Dallas Stars wins could boot them out of the postseason altogether. Getting a point would safeguard Los Angeles from such a fate, yet Jonathan Quick wants the team to set its goals higher.
“We have to prepare for tomorrow and get ready to get two points. We can’t be satisfied with just getting one point and getting in, we want to keep moving up. We want to win the division, and get that home ice.”
The Sharks are the most home-dependent of the Pacific contenders, but there’s no doubt that all of the contenders could benefit greatly from winning the third seed. The biggest difference is that Los Angeles holds tiebreaker advantages over San Jose and Phoenix, meaning that it has the most control of the race – even beyond the potential to knock the hated Sharks out of the playoffs