Who will emerge in battle for West’s final playoff spot?

It’s often said that to snag one of the NHL’s final playoff spots, it’s all about “getting hot at the right time.” But in the West Division this season, we may be looking at a case of “you don’t have to play well, just slightly better than everyone else around you.”

Let’s rewind a month. On March 21, the Kings beat the Golden Knights 3-1 to improve to 13-11-6 on the season. That put them in 5th place in the West, five points back of the fourth-place Blues, who were tied on points with the third-place Wild.

Here’s how the standings looked after that night:

Since then, the Kings have won a grand total of four games, going 4-9-0 over the past month. A dagger to their playoff chances, right? Well, not exactly. LA has dipped to seventh in the division, but they’re no further from the postseason cutoff line now than they were back then. With 40 points in 43 games, the Kings are still just five points behind the final playoff spot, but they have four games in-hand over now-fourth-place Arizona (who is a whopping 16 points behind the third-place Wild).

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Here’s how the standings look as of Thursday morning:

So how did this happen? Well, look at how everyone else fighting for that last playoff spot has played lately:

Coyotes: Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota was their seventh in the last eight games
Blues: In the same span that the Kings have gone 4-9-0, the Blues have collected fewer points at 3-8-1
Sharks: Wednesday’s loss to Vegas was their seventh in a row

As things stand on Thursday, the Blues are actually in the best position based on points percentage, as they are just one point back of Arizona with four games in hand.

Here’s how MoneyPuck.com is handicapping the race for the fourth spot:

Blues: 46.2% chance to make postseason
Kings: 25.5%
Coyotes: 21.9%
Sharks: 6.3%

The Blues are definitely in the driver’s seat, but at least compared to the Kings, their schedule is way more difficult. Of St. Louis’ 13 remaining games, 10 of them come against teams ahead of them in the standings (five vs. Minnesota, three vs. Colorado, two vs. Vegas). Of LA’s 13 remaining games, seven are against either Anaheim or Arizona.

The fact remains that plenty of hockey is yet to be played, and even though all four teams are slumping, a hot streak by any of them could be the difference. Let’s hope it happens.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

    matty beniers
    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.