Breaking Down the Race for the Final NHL Playoff Spots in Western Conference

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2013

Breaking Down the Race for the Final NHL Playoff Spots in Western Conference

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    The Western Conference is talented and deep.

    There are four teams in contention for the final two spots. A good case can be made for all of the teams being of high quality. There will clearly be at two heartbroken teams when the regular season comes to an end.

    The final games of the season will undoubtedly be decided by the factors that are most important in the playoffs—excellent goaltending and clutch scoring.

    Here's our breakdown of how the Western Conference race will play out over the final three days of the season. Odds courtesy of Sports Club Stats.

Minnesota Wild

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    Odds They’ll Get In: 96 percent

    Biggest Advantage in the Race: The Wild defeated the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday night, and they have two game remaining against the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. One win (or two points) will earn them a spot in the playoffs.

    Biggest Disadvantage in the Race: There's a ton of pressure on the Wild and they have not been playing their best hockey. Late in March, it seemed like they had a good chance to take the Northwest Division crown from the Vancouver Canucks. However, the Wild slumped and they will have to settle for a spot in the playoffs. If they don't make it after spending big money on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the offseason and adding Jason Pominville at the trade deadline, head coach Mike Yeo will be in a tenuous position.

    Prediction: They have been forced to sweat quite a bit, but when the season ends Saturday (for all teams but the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators), the Wild will be in the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Odds They’ll Get In: 24.1 percent

    Biggest Advantage in the Race: The Blue Jackets were the worst team in the league last year, and they weren't expected to be significantly better this year. However, team president John Davidson has started this team down the right track, and the Blue Jackets have played aggressive hockey since the midseason mark. They are currently the eighth-place team and have a solid shot to earn their second playoff spot. The goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky has given them a lift on an every-game basis.

    Biggest Disadvantage in the Race: Even if the Blue Jackets sweep their two games, they will find themselves on the outside if the Detroit Red Wings sweep their final two games of the season. If the Minnesota Wild gains two points in their two remaining game, the Blue Jackets will not be able to pass them.

    Prediction: The Blue Jackets have to go to Dallas before closing the regular season with the Nashville Predators at home. The Blue Jackets will probably lose at Dallas and their season will most likely end in heartbreak.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Odds They’ll Get In: 78 percent

    Biggest Advantage in the Race: The Red Wings moved into the eighth spot in the playoffs after beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 Wednesday night. That solid showing came on the heels of a sensational 4-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes Monday night. They are clearly motivated to make the playoffs once again.

    Biggest Disadvantage in the Race: The Red Wings are under tremendous pressure to keep their playoff streak alive. They haven't missed the postseason since the 1989-90 season, and this group does not want to be known as the team that ended the streak. Head coach Mike Babcock will get the most out of this team, but if they slip up once, they will be in jeopardy.

    Prediction: The Red Wings have won two games in the final week of the season and if they can beat the  Nashville Predators at home before and the Dallas Stars on the road, they will get into the playoffs as the seventh or eighth seed.

Dallas Stars

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    Odds They’ll Get In: 2 percent

    Biggest Advantage in the Race: The Stars have two games remaining against the teams they are competing with for the final playoff spot. The Stars must beat the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets at home. They also need the Red Wings and Blue Jackets to lose to the Nashville Predators. If the Red Wings take the Stars to overtime, that would eliminate Dallas.

    Biggest Disadvantage in the Race: When the Stars lost to San Jose Sharks Tuesday night despite leading late in the third period, their playoff chances took a big hit. If they had won that game, their playoff fate would be in their own hands. That's no longer the case.

    Prediction: The Stars should feel proud of the run they have made, but they won't get to the promised land. The Stars will miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    Odds They’ll Get In: Eliminated

    Biggest Advantage in the Race: Despite beating the San Jose Sharks 2-1 Wednesday night, the Coyotes cannot make the playoffs.

    Biggest Disadvantage in the Race: While a look at the standings indicates the Coyotes are four points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings with two games to go, they cannot pass the Red Wings. If the Coyotes won their remaining two games and the Red Wings lost theirs, the Red Wings would still have more regulation and overtime wins than the Coyotes. That's the tie breaker that would decide the race.

    Prediction: The Coyotes had a great run in the postseason last year, but they will not make the playoffs this year.