The National Hockey League’s abbreviated season ends in one month and then the playoffs get cranked up. Even if you’re aren’t a hockey fan, you’d have to concede that there is no better drama in any playoff game in then in a hockey game seven.
Things are already starting to come into focus in terms of who is in line for the playoffs and who isn’t. While there are certainly no guarantees in life or hockey for that matter, I feel pretty good telling you who will qualify for the 2013 NHL Playoffs.
The Eastern Conference
Pittsburgh has won 13 straight games following a 1-0 win over Montreal Tuesday night. They have pushed their lead as the top seed to seven points ahead of second place Boston and Montreal who are tied with 45 points.
Marc-Andre Fleury was caught in collision between two other players near the end of the second period and did not return. I don’t expect him to miss a lot of time if any, but only his or Sidney Crosby’s absence for any length of time would keep the Pens from securing the top seed.
The bottom of the playoff race is less clear as is typically the case in the NHL. Right now, the 8th seed is controlled by the New York Rangers who have a two-point lead over the New York Islanders. Still in play is Carolina (32), Washington (31) and Buffalo (30).
Ahead of the Rangers are the Devils (37) and Maple Leafs (40).
If the playoffs started today, you’d have some intriguing match-ups with Pittsburgh and the Rangers in the one-eight matchup and Boston vs New Jersey in the two-seven.
The Western Conference
After the amazing start by the Chicago Blackhawks, can you believe the Anaheim Ducks are just five points behind in the race for the top seed? While I think Chicago will hang on, because of the better offense, they cannot afford to look past the Ducks.
The bottom of the playoff race is much more muddled. San Jose currently has the eight seed with 34 points. On their heels are the Predators (34), Dallas (33), Columbus (33) and Edmonton (31). The Sharks have won just three times in their last ten games while the Blue Jackets are 6-1-3 over the same stretch. I can easily see this spot changing hands a few more times before the end of April.
Detroit has moved up nicely to the 5th spot and is just three points shy of current third seed Vancouver. The Canucks have won five straight while current 4th seed Minnesota has won six in a row.
If the playoffs started today in the West, Minnesota and Detroit in the four-five match-up would have the potential to be a great seven-game series. The three-six would be an outstanding duel between the Canucks and defending champion Los Angeles.
Games this week in the NHL
NY Islanders at Pittsburgh – The Penguins go for their 14th straight at home against an Islanders’ team that is attempting to catch the Rangers for the 8th seed. I expect Fleury to sit in this one but Tomas Vokoun has played very well of late and I see the streak going at least for one more game here.
NY Rangers at Montreal – In their effort to hang onto a playoff spot, the Rangers travel to Montreal where the Habs are 9-4-3. I like the Rangers to steal a win in Canada.
Chicago at Detroit – One of the great rivalries in hockey returns to Joe Louis Arena where the Wings will host the cooled off Blackhawks. I like Detroit behind solid goal-tending and the little run they appear to be on.