NHL Playoff Hunt: The Wild, Wild Northwest

Jason JohnsonCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2008

It's not unsual for a divisional race to come down to the wire between two teams.

Every once in a while, as fans, we are spoiled with a three team race.

This year, with all due respect to the excitement at the top of the Eastern Conference, the best race in all of hockey is battle for the Northwest division which features no less than four teams.

After Monday night's action and a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, the Minnesota Wild sit atop the division all alone with 86 points.  The Vancouver Canucks rode a Monday night win of their own to pull into a three-way second place tie with the Calgary Flames and the same Avalanche, at 84 points.

If that isn't enough to get you thrilled for the strech drive, consider that after the Wild take on the San Jose Sharks next, and the Flames tangle with the Columbus Blue Jackets, all four of these team will have only divisional games remaining.

Forget what the NHL says officially; the playoffs have definitely begun in the Northwest division.

However, the unfortunate side effect to such a schedule is the reality that one of these deserving teams could end up on the outside of the playoff picture altogether.

Battling within the division means that on any given night, one team will be gaining more points than another, guaranteed.  A team like the Nashville Predators, sitting just four points back of eighth, could take advantage of that and string together a few wins to leapfrog one of these Northwest teams.

Regardless of where your allegiances lie, you can't deny the atmosphere when these foes will lock up over the remaining NHL schedule.

Sit back, and enjoy the best race that a sports fan could hope for.