Making Sense of the NHL’s Wild Western Conference

Four weeks from now, the NHL playoff picture will be much clearer. We won’t have to speculate – the matchups will be set. But it’s not four weeks from now, so let’s have some fun trying to piece this together. The eight Eastern Conference clubs are pretty well locked in, it’s just a matter of what order they finish in. In the West?

It’s basically chaos.

Naturally, we’ll focus our energy on the chaotic conference. Anaheim, St. Louis, Nashville (despite their recent efforts) and Chicago are all in. They haven’t technically clinched spots yet, but it would take a pretty memorable meltdown for them to miss out. That essentially leaves eight teams fighting for four spots.

At least two of those spots are getting filled from the Pacific, where Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles and San Jose are vying for postseason berths. The top two clubs from that group will take second and third in the division, while the other two will compete with Minnesota, Winnipeg, Colorado and Dallas for the two wild card spots. Normally, it takes about 93 points to sneak into the Western Conference playoffs. With that in mind, here’s what each of those eight teams is facing down the stretch.

Minnesota Wild
Record: 38-24-7 (13 games remaining)
Points Needed to Hit 93: 10
Let’s just be honest with ourselves, the Wild are getting in. They have the talent, they have last year’s postseason experience to draw from and they’re one of the hottest teams in all of hockey right now. If Devan Dubnyk played all season at the level he’s performed at since joining Minnesota (20-5-1, 1.66 GAA, .939 save percentage, five shutouts), he’d be giving Carey Price a run for the Vezina. They’re in. Let’s move on.


Vancouver Canucks
Record: 39-25-4 (14 games remaining)
Points Needed to Hit 93: 11
The way things are going in the Pacific right now, it might not even take 93 points to finish in the top three. The Canucks lead the way in the race for second, but they’ve won exactly half their games since Dec. 4 (21-18-3) and they’re a little top-heavy in terms of scoring. Not exactly inspiring stuff, though the trio of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Radim Vrbata are capable of going off on any night, Ryan Miller will likely be back in time for the start of the playoffs and a favorable first round matchup is possible (assuming it’s not LA, of course).


Calgary Flames
Record: 38-26-5 (13 games remaining)
Points Needed to Hit 93: 12
Nobody expected the Flames to be here this season. And even when they were still in it at the All-Star break, everyone just assumed they would drop off at some point. Bob Hartley deserves some serious credit for taking a young group that was supposed to be in rebuild mode and quickly molding them into a potential playoff team on the fly. Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are enjoying breakout campaigns, while Jiri Hudler has quietly put together just the sort of veteran season (25 goals and 35 assists) that a young club needs. The last two games of the year – against the Kings on April 9 and on the road against the Jets on April 11 – could be two of the biggest games Calgary has been a part of since 2009.


Winnipeg Jets
Record: 34-23-12 (13 games remaining)
Points Needed to Hit 93: 13
The Jets just keep losing key players, and they just keep hanging around anyway. Now they’re playing without Mathieu Perreault and Dustin Byfuglien – as well as new acquisition Tyler Myers – and they’re still clinging to the final wild card spot. Problem is, LA is the team right behind them that they’re trying to hold off, and we all know how trying to hold off the Kings usually turns out this time of year. Two showdowns with the Canucks, as well as meetings with the Wild, Sharks and Flames (in the season fianle, no less) could determine everything.


Los Angeles Kings
Record: 33-22-13 (14 games remaining)
Points Needed to Hit 93: 14
This is what the Kings do. In 2012, they snuck in as the No. 8 seed and proceeded to win the whole thing. Last year, they hoisted the Stanley Cup again, despite finishing the regular season with the sixth-best record in the West. Darryl Sutter’s squad is 4-1-1 in their last six, and 12-4-1 in their last 17, so they’re doing that thing where they take off in the second half again. We could go through their remaining schedule, but we already know this story almost always ends with a playoff berth.


San Jose Sharks
Record: 34-27-8 (13 games remaining)
Points Needed to Hit 93: 17
The Sharks are 4-2 this month, but the margin for error is extremely thin. And tensions are boiling over off the ice as well, with Doug Wilson and Joe Thornton publicly snapping at each other last week. Things could get ugly if they miss the playoffs, though they do close out the season in LA. It wouldn’t completely make up for blowing a 3-0 series lead against the Kings last year, but edging out their rivals from southern California for the final playoff spot on the last day of the regular season would certainly be a bright spot for San Jose.


Colorado Avalanche
Record: 32-26-11 (13 games remaining)
Points Needed to Hit 93: 18
The Avs are doing all they can lately, winning five of their last six and going 10-4 since Feb. 12. But it might just be too little, too late. They basically have to land 18 of their final 26 possible points, and they’re going to have to win all their remaining pivotal games against Calgary (March 23), Vancouver (March 26), San Jose (April 1), Los Angeles (April 4) and Winnipeg (April 9). And they have to do it all without Nathan MacKinnon.


Dallas Stars
Record: 32-28-10 (12 games remaining)
Points Needed to Hit 93: 19
It’s nice to see Tyler Seguin back, and the Stars could be a team to pay attention to in the future. But they’re really only on this list for this season because we’re being nice.

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