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.