2011-12 NHL Season: 7 Games This Week Determine Final Standings
From March 20-22, there are seven games that could make or break seasons. They are all match-ups of teams fighting for playoff position in the Western Conference or the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
But there is more at stake than mere statement performances. These teams are in races tight enough that rising to the occasion or blinking in that one game could tip the scales in the standings, leaving too little time to be caught or make up ground without the higher seeds stumbling.
I listed the games in chronological order in a related piece written for SportsRantz.com that talked about why each game was so pivotal. Here I will predict the outcome and the game's impact on both teams...
March 20: Dallas Stars over Phoenix Coyotes in Regulation
The Dallas Stars will reassert themselves as a serious contender for the Pacific Division title with this win, officially recapturing the spot from the San Jose Sharks. The Phoenix Coyotes will dig themselves a hole, falling out of the top eight in both points and point percentage.
March 20: Los Angeles Kings over San Jose Sharks in Regulation
The San Jose Sharks actually have a better record on road games that are the second of back-to-back nights than they do for the season overall. But it is hard to play one division rival then take an hour flight to play another the next night.
The Los Angeles Kings are hot. They are scoring and still are good in their own end. They win this in regulation to pass the Sharks in the standings on a tiebreak and take over the seventh seed.
March 21: New York Rangers over Detroit Red Wings in Regulation
Both of these teams will enter this game in a funk. If a team wins Monday's contest (both play) and takes this one, they might emerge from it.
The Detroit Red Wings could be without Nicklas Lidstrom and Johan Franzen. The New York Rangers are at home, and while that was not enough against the red-hot Colorado Avalanche, it will mean a regulation win over the sputtering Wings.
March 22: Pittsburgh Penguins over Nashville Predators in Regulation
Unless Alexander Radulov returns to the Nashville Predators by Thursday, they simply will not have the firepower needed to win in Pittsburgh. They give up a lot of shots to less prolific teams, and succumb to the Penguins superior pressure.
With the win, the Penguins once again close to within a half-game of the New York Rangers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Nashville stays merely percentage points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings because of the loss.
March 22: Vancouver Canucks over Dallas Stars in Shootout
The Vancouver Canucks will have played the night before in Chicago, but they are still a better team than the Dallas Stars. At some point, the Sedin line is going to start scoring again—probably sooner rather than later—and the rest of the league will pay.
With the win, the Canucks move closer to the St. Louis Blues for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Stars earning a point will allow them to stay officially ahead of the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings for the NHL Pacific lead...for less than two hours.
March 22: Phoenix Coyotes over Colorado Avalanche in Shootout
The Colorado Avalanche are on a roll. But they are also on a road trip that might leave them just a little short, and the Phoenix Coyotes take advantage of teams not being at their best.
With the three-point game, these two teams remain the top two contenders to take the final spot away from the San Jose Sharks or Los Angeles Kings. Phoenix will have the ninth-best point percentage but be officially 10th in the standings, while Colorado will be the reverse.
March 22: Los Angeles Kings over St. Louis Blues in Shootout
Last season, the Los Angeles Kings were almost unbeatable (10-2) in a shootout. They have more firepower this season but are just 5-7.
They start trending in the right direction here. They simply have more shooters and will not have to worry about the tough defence of the St. Louis Blues in the skills competition.
Coming off a game the night before in Anaheim, this loss will allow the Vancouver Canucks to close within a game of the St. Louis Blues. The Kings will be coming off a big win, and the only reason they will not take first place is the San Jose Sharks play the Eastern Conference (in this case struggling Boston at the Shark Tank) well.