If you want an illustration of the significant parity and “What have you done for me lately?” atmosphere in the NHL, take a look at the Dallas Stars’ Thursday night. With one regulation loss (2-1 to the Vancouver Canucks) and plenty of activity throughout the West, the Stars didn’t just lose their Pacific Division lead and the third seed that goes with it – they tumbled all the way to eighth place.
To keep things tidy, here’s an update of the West’s bubble and Pacific Division races, in order of where the teams are in the standings right now:
Kings edge Blues 1-0 in shootout, take Pacific lead
Point to the Jeff Carter trade, hiring Darryl Sutter or any number of other developments if you’d like, but the bottom line is that the Los Angeles Kings are red-hot. They won their sixth game in a row in the exact way you’d sardonically expect against the St. Louis Blues. The two punch-less/defensively savvy teams (depending upon how you look at it) enjoyed dual shutouts – Jonathan Quick made 35 saves while Brian Elliott stopped all 37 shots – before the Kings won it in the skills competition.
GM Dean Lombardi might smile, as Carter and Mike Richards scored the SO goals, overwhelming T.J. Oshie’s single triumph for St. Louis.
(4. Detroit – idle; 5. Nashville – lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1; 6. Chicago – idle)
Coyotes curb Colorado
By no means can the Kings relax on the Pacific throne because the Coyotes have the same amount of standings points (86) thanks to a 3-2 regulation win against the Colorado Avalanche – who are now in 10th place. (Chalk that up as about the only bit of comforting news for Dallas.)
The Kings hold a game in hand advantage but that’s it – for now – as both Los Angeles and Phoenix have the same amount of wins (37) and regulation/OT wins (31).
Phoenix took a 3-0 lead and nearly coughed it up as the Avalanche scored two third period goals but Mike Smith earned the 100th win of his career. (Something tells me the next 100 won’t take nearly as long if he stays under Dave Tippett’s watch.)
Falling Stars, melting Avs
This leads me to Dallas, who gave the Canucks a solid fight but still lost 2-1. Henrik Sedin was a big difference even with his brother Daniel on the mend, assisting on both Vancouver goals while Corey Schneider stopped 25 out of 26 shots.
The good news for the Stars is that while they slipped to eighth place, the Avalanche are actually less of a threat than it seems. Both teams have 85 points but Dallas has two more games in hand. Unfortunately, the 10th place team is more of a threat …
Sharks slip by Bruins
Obviously, things have been bad for the San Jose Sharks lately. And, yes, the Boston Bruins aren’t the powerhouse they were a couple months ago.
Still, collecting a 2-1 win against the defending champions in regulation is heartening. Joe Pavelski scored a goal assisted by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau while Daniel Winnik scored his first San Jose goal.
11. Calgary Flames – gain a charity point while Brent Sutter puts a trash can on the IR.
OK, with that all out of the way, here’s how the standings look:
(3) Los Angeles – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, eight games left
7. Phoenix – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, seven games left
8. Dallas – 85 points, 33 regulation/OT wins, eight games left
9. Colorado – 85 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, six games left
10. San Jose – 84 points, 30 regulation/OT wins, eight games left
11. Calgary – 83 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, seven games left
Overall, it looks like the Pacific will produce three playoff teams – the division winner and perhaps the seventh and eighth seeds. What do you think, though?