The NHL's Western Conference standings have been all over the map this year, with even the Kings in first place at one point, but if I were to travel back to September and show any hockey pundit today's standings, they would no doubt believe that I took over as league commissioner before what is posted below:
Most notable is the surge by the unlikely Phoenix Coyotes in to first place in the Pacific Division, surpassing last year's Presidents Trophy winners the San Jose Sharks. As I've said in previous articles, the only way I ever thought that could happen would be due to some sort of tragedy to Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, or Patrick Marleau, but the Coyotes have claimed the top spot in the Pacific through traditional means: winning.
The 'Yotes are 9-1-0 in their last ten games in this, the most crucial time of the season. They are no doubt the hottest team in the league right now.
The Kings would currently be seeded sixth, at only one point above the Colorado Avalanche tonight. Obviously, the outright winner of this game would have a stranglehold on that sixth spot. Should the Avs win in Overtime or a shootout, they would be tied in points, but the Kings would have a game in hand.
The points indicate what place each team will finish, and moreover, they will decide who each team will face in the first round.
The aforementioned Coyotes will be a dangerous team to face in the first round for anybody, as they are a very well balanced team in all areas, and have to be hungry since they have never had much playoff success. In fact, since the Jets moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix and became the Coyotes in 1996, they have not advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While some fans may say the wouldn't be scared to face the Coyotes, they would say the same of the San Jose Sharks, who share the Coyotes' hunger after repeated playoff failure (based on expectations) and now sit in FOURTH place in the Western Conference playoff race.
Uhh, maybe holding on to that sixth spot wouldn't be such a terrible idea?
That is, if you don't mind facing face Roberto Luongo and the rest of the Canucks in the first round.
Let's also keep in mind that the Red Wings are only barely in the hunt, sitting in the eighth spot with the Calgary Flames nipping at their heels; two teams that have a wealth of talent and playoff experience.
The bottom line is that while every game in the regular season is technically of equal significance, right now, each game will more immediately dictate the situation in each conference one the postseason commences.
This not only refers to which opponent each team will face, but how each team's line-up and style of play shapes up going into the playoffs.
A team will have more confidence if they are playing better hockey and winning more games towards the end of the season, which will only be looked at as the secondary by product of winning; the first being potentially achieving a higher seed and matching up against a supposed inferior opponent.
This is indeed a cliche statement, but the playoffs don't start in April; they started in March. For proof, tune in tonight to see what the match-up between the Kings and Avs looks like.
After the previous two lackluster performances by the Kings, if they don't adopt that mentality for tonight's contest, they will assuredly get blown out and face the first real possibility of missing the playoffs yet again.
If, on the other hand, they recognize the significance of what all tonight's game means, and treat this game as a playoff game and yes, even a foreshadowing of a potential playoff match-up, then they can prove to fans, the rest of the league, and even themselves that they not only belong in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, but that they can even make some waves.