Tag: Western Conference playoff bubble

Calgary Flames v Dallas Stars

West update: Stars capture Pacific lead – again

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Hockey writers should be awfully careful during the next week and a half – at least when it comes to the Pacific Division.

Normally, it’s easy to question the “heart” and “fortitude” of a given team, but let’s face it – things are changing far too frequently to safely make ridiculous assumptions based merely off of results. Case in point: as quickly as the San Jose Sharks took the division lead, another loss to those bedeviling Anaheim Ducks switched things back up again.

As is becoming customary, let’s go in order of where the teams finished at the end of Wednesday night.

Stars shine atop Pacific again

The Dallas Stars’ previous era contained plenty of skirmishes with an Edmonton Oilers team that often included Ryan Smyth, so it only makes sense that the current model went through the latest group that includes the beloved mulleted winger. They did just that, too, as Michael Ryder (two goals) and Mike Ribeiro (one tally) scored some beauties on their way to a huge 3-1 win.

Well, huge for now …

4. Detroit gives up ground to 5. Nashville, who clinched yet another playoff berth (seven in its last eight seasons) while 6. Chicago sat idle.

7. Kings win the Sutter Bowl against the 11. Calgary Flames 3-0, with Jonathan Quick breaking the franchise record with nine shutouts in one season.

8. Sharks open themselves to more snark

The beauty of this San Jose season is that lazy writers can just swoop in and out depending on their whims. When the Sharks take the Pacific lead, they can conveniently take a trip to the golf course or grocery store (depending on that writer’s place in the tax bracket). On moments like Wednesday night, those same guys can fill in the blanks for the latest discussion about who lacks heart and whatever intangible doesn’t require any research whatsoever.

Jaded media critiques aside, one can see a very obvious trend: the Anaheim Ducks have been a nightmare for the Sharks over the years. They upset a Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sharks game in the first round of the 2009 playoffs and if San Jose misses the postseason this year, its performance against Anaheim might be the most direct example.

Not convinced? The Ducks’ 3-1 victory marks Anaheim’s fifth victory against San Jose – all in regulation. If you don’t think that those 5-10 points aren’t a matter of regret for the Sharks, you’re kidding yourself.

Idle 9. Phoenix Coyotes slip while 10. Colorado Avalanche lose a 1-0 shutout to the Vancouver Canucks.

With these updates in mind, here’s what the West bubble race looks like:

3. Dallas: 89 points, 35 regulation/OT wins with five games left

7. Los Angeles: 88 points, 32 regulation/OT wins with five games left
8. San Jose: 88 points, 31 regulation/OT wins with five games left

9. Phoenix: 87 points. 31 regulation/OT wins with five games left
10. Colorado: 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins with three games left
11. Calgary: 85 points, 32 regulation/OT wins with four games left

All things considered, it looks like a four-Pacific team race for the final three Western playoff spots, with the best of those four gaining the division title (and the third seed overall) while the worst won’t be in the playoffs at all. Now, the Avalanche and Flames could change that situation, but it’s hard not to think that way when you weigh the odds.

Either way, let me make a reasonably safe prediction: things will change a lot over the next week and a half until the game of high-stakes musical chairs ends.

Sharks take Pacific Division lead, Flames stay alive

Colorado Avalanche v San Jose Sharks

At least one former St. Louis Blues player hopes to the Blues see the San Jose Sharks in the first round, but the odds of that happening dropped considerably Monday. Then again, considering the up-and-down nature of the West’s stretch run, the most important word is “Monday” because things seem to change drastically from night to night.

In March 26’s case, the Sharks took a slim Pacific Division lead, the Calgary Flames stayed in the hunt and everyone else took a step back. To keep things neat, I’ll go in order of where the teams are in the standings as of this writing.

(Which, again, might only hold true for a day or two.)

Sharks contain Avalanche 5-1

It’s silly to call any individual contest the biggest of the night because they’re all huge for the individual teams, so let me temper that by deeming this the most “sweeping.”

The Sharks regulation win places them atop the Pacific and in the third seed – for now – with 88 points and six games remaining. Meanwhile, the Avalanche suffer a crushing blow that’s only a little less debilitating than the one that the Winnipeg Jets received earlier tonight.

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While the Avalanche are technically only a point behind seventh and eighth place at 86 points, they only have four games left this season – the least of all the bubble teams.

It’s hardly any solace, but at least the Avalanche didn’t fall just short in this game. They lost soundly, so there’s little sense staying up all night thinking of a single bad bounce. Instead, they must just move on and hope for bounces in their favor on future nights – but things look pretty shaky.

Flames burn Stars

In fact, I’d argue that Calgary might actually have a better chance than Colorado after Monday’s festivities. Despite allowing Jamie Benn goals 26 seconds into the first period (1-0) and 44 into the second (2-1), the Flames managed to win  5-4 – and in regulation to boot. That places them in 11th overall, but they have five games left and are only two points back of one of the final two seeds. At worst, their odds are similar to Colorado’s all things considered.

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Canucks blank Kings

If the Los Angles Kings miss the playoffs, the sad symbol of their season might just be a goose egg. Los Angeles has been shut out 10 times this season after Roberto Luongo’s perfect night, guaranteeing that more than 12 percent of the Kings’ games were fruitless.

The Canucks have already clinched the lowly Northwest Division – which looks unlikely to produce a second playoff team once again – so their sites are focused on the West’s first seed. That’s far from a pipe dream, either, because the St. Louis Blues only have a two point lead for the No. 1 spot. (Although it must be noted that the Blues currently have 47 wins and 43 regulation/OT victories to 46 and 39 for Vancouver.)

Los Angeles probably wishes that its opponents had less to play for because that 1-0 loss really hurts.

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Instead of taking the Pacific lead or at least essentially tying the Sharks with 88 points, the Kings are instead seated in ninth place with 86 behind the Sharks, Stars and Coyotes.

West update

In fact, here’s a look at how the West races shake out – we’ll focus on the Pacific and final seed battles for now:

3. San Jose – 88 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, six games left

7. Dallas – 87 points, 34 regulation/OT wins, six games left
8. Phoenix – 87 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, five games left

9. Los Angeles – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, six games left
10. Colorado – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, four games left
11. Calgary – 85 points, 32 regulation/OT wins, five games left

As you can see, Monday didn’t really deliver a death blow or open up an easy avenue for anyone, bu the Kings, Stars and Avalanche must really be kicking themselves. The Pacific appears to be fair game, but to use a regrettable media term, San Jose “controls its own destiny.” All six of its final contests take place against Pacific teams, with just one against the irrelevant-beyond-spoilers Anaheim Ducks.

In general, there’s plenty left in play but the Flames and especially the Sharks won the biggest tonight. We’ll find out soon enough how much that matters.

Want a video summary of the night as well? NBC Sports Network has you covered:

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West update: Sharks are tonight’s only empty-handed team

San Jose Sharks v Los Angeles Kings

Tuesday’s six big Western Conference showdowns gave every contender a reason to keep their heads high to at least some extent – except the San Jose Sharks, whose shoulders must slump low.

The Sharks have now lost back-to-back games in regulation to start the week, as the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings flagrantly outplayed them. Tuesday’s game versus Los Angeles ended with a 5-2 win for the Kings that included a Jeff Carter empty-netter that really just made the score seem more fitting.

(San Jose allowed 40+ shots in both contests.)

Stars stand alone

The Dallas Stars stand above everyone else thanks to a big overtime win in an absolutely enthralling game against the Phoenix Coyotes, but that’s far the only important story of the night.

Smoking Semyon

Considering the fact that he’s gone 10-2-0 in his last 12 games, it might be fair to call Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov “Ilya Bryzgalov West.” Varly stopped all but one shot as the Avs squeezed out a 2-1 OT win against the Calgary Flames in a matchup of two playoff-desperate teams. (Interesting side note: Matt Stajan has been Calgary’s lone goal scorer in two straight games, which allowed them to salvage efforts with a charity point in each.)

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West outlook

Now that you’re updated on the nightly results, here is how the race for the final few spots looks:

3) Dallas: 84 points, 33 regulation/OT wins and nine games left

7) Colorado: 85 points, 31 regulation/OT wins and seven games left
8) Los Angeles: 84 points, 31 regulation/OT wins and nine games left

9) Phoenix: 84 points, 30 regulation/OT wins and eight games left
10) San Jose: 82 points, 29 regulation/OT wins and nine games left
11) Calgary: 82 points, 31 regulation/OT wins and eight games left

Yup, that’s obviously as close as it gets. Perhaps the one bit of good news for the Sharks is that they’re not totally out of it yet – honest. Still, this is a huge turnaround, with perhaps the Kings grinning the widest.

  • The Coyotes might lose Shane Doan for a few games.
  • It’s possible that the Stars might lose their big star Jamie Benn if a rough contest against Phoenix did injure him.
  • They have a games remaining edge on the Colorado Avalanche and other edges on the Flames.

Either way, there’s no glossing over tonight’s big losers: the Sharks. In fact, Sports Club Stats places their playoff chances in 10th place at 37.7 percent – down a whopping 18.2 percent tonight – while Los Angeles is at seventh with 70.6 percent odds (up 10.1 percent).

Addendum: even if you say “Hey, the Nashville Predators lost to the Edmonton Oilers tonight,” the response is simple. If getting Alexander Radulov back isn’t a big win, then what is?

Sharks open up path of most resistance with loss to Ducks

Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Douglas Murray

Losing to the Anaheim Ducks isn’t a season-killing disappointment for the San Jose Sharks. It doesn’t completely change their excellent chance to make it into the West’s top eight.

Still, when you look at the Sharks remaining schedule, this 5-3 loss was supposed to be San Jose’s easiest remaining contest. Every other match is against a team that’s either headed for the playoffs or desperately fighting the Sharks for one of the final spots.

Just look at the frightening stretch run for San Jose:

Tuesday: at Los Angeles
Thursday: vs. Boston
Saturday: vs. Phoenix
March 26: vs. Colorado
March 28: at Anaheim
March 29: at Phoenix
March 31: vs. Dallas
April 3: at Dallas
April 5: at Los Angeles
April 7: vs. Los Angeles

OK, so maybe one more game against the Ducks would theoretically give them a break, but they lost to Anaheim at home. What would make a road game against the Ducks any easier?

After that Ducks contest, the Sharks face five consecutive contests against Pacific division teams that will be battling them desperately for a playoff spot and/or the division title.

This regulation defeat technically bumps San Jose to 10th place, as you can see from this updated view:

7. Phoenix: 83 points, 30 regulation/OT wins and nine games left
8. Colorado: 83 points, 30 regulation/OT wins and eight games left

9. Los Angeles: 82 points, 30 regulation/OT wins and 10 games left
10. San Jose: 82 points, 29 regulation/OT wins and 10 games left
11. Calgary: 81 points, 31 regulation/OT wins and nine games left

Sharks fans should be excused for imaging what things would be like if this contest went differently. Even an OT/shootout loss would leave them tentatively in seventh place, yet this regulation loss dumps them to 10th.

The odds pour salt on the wounds

Sports Club Stats’ updated situation really kicks some more dirt into the faces of Sharks fans. Here are their odds for who will finish with the last few spots (and who will just miss):

Dallas (slight edge for Pacific): 65.8 percent chance to make playoffs
7. Los Angeles (60.6 percent)
8. Phoenix (60.2 percent)

9. San Jose (55.8 percent – down 14.7 percent)
10. Colorado (31.1 percent)
11. Calgary (28 percent)

Saving grace for San Jose

The one saving grace is the plus of that tough schedule: the Sharks control much of their “destiny” with a resounding three contests against the Kings and two matches against both the Stars and Coyotes. If they win the majority of those squabbles – particularly in regulation – then this loss will be looked as exchanging an alarm clock for waking up with a slap in the face.

Still, only the most stoic Sharks fan will claim that this didn’t hurt.

West update: Kings beat Jimmy Howard in his return

Detroit Red Wings v Los Angeles Kings

On an action-packed Tuesday, it only makes sense to tie up some loose ends by covering the Western Conference developments in a quick-hit format.

  • To save time, read up here on Kari Lehtonen’s hot run and how the Dallas Stars expanded their Pacific Division lead with a 1-0 win against the Minnesota Wild.
  • Clearing up the other divisional race matters, the St. Louis Blues improved their lead in the Central even though the Chicago Blackhawks topped them 4-3 via a shootout. Check out highlights of that contest – which ended Jaroslav Halak’s eight-game winning streak – below.
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  • Moving beyond the idle seventh-ranked Phoenix Coyotes, the eighth through 11th seeds are all locked up at 78 points in large part because of Tuesday’s games. The San Jose Sharks are currently in eighth place, but that’s only due to tie-breakers as the ninth-ranked Calgary Flames won 3-2 in overtime:

That game presented a little of the old and the new; Jarome Iginla and Logan Couture both hit the 30-goal mark – making it 11 seasons in a row for Iggy and two straight campaigns at that plateau for the young Sharks forward.

The contest was notable for two reasons beyond the standings impact: Jeff Carter’s empty-netter makes it five consecutive seasons with at least 20 goals while Jimmy Howard lost in his return, allowing four goals on 26 shots: