The NHL trade deadline has passed and the season is heading into its last quarter. Because rosters are set and there are only about a dozen games left for most teams, the picture for the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs is coming more into focus.
The Eastern Conference has three serious contenders to reach the finals, three teams in contention to be yet another undeserved Southeast Division winner "earning" a third seed as the worst team in the Stanley Cup playoffs and five other teams vying for the other four berths.
Despite no longer appearing unbeatable, the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks built up enough of a lead to win their divisions. Either could finish first or second in the Western Conference. But the rest of the pack is too competitive to call.
A regulation win by the San Jose Sharks over the Minnesota Wild Wednesday, April 3, left three teams with 44 points in 36 games and a fourth one point behind them. Just two games separate the five teams behind them. Only the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames are truly out of the playoff hunt.
Of course, that only makes predictions more interesting, like those in the preseason when there are far more possibilities. My own early-season predictions landed seven of the eight teams I still see making it in, but in drastically different order than I now see each postseason round playing out.