NHL Playoff Update: Chicago Blackhawks and the Mess in the West

Erik PaulCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2011

NHL Playoff Update: Chicago Blackhawks and the Mess in the West

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    The playoff race in the Western Conference is one of the tightest we've ever seen.

    Eight teams have somewhere between 77 and 83 points, and the battle for the final five playoff spots is wide open.

    The playoff picture in the West changes daily, often with two teams in the race playing each other.

    Here's a recap of each potential playoff team's past week and an outlook for next week.


    Follow Erik on Twitter: @ekpaul87

Columbus Blue Jackets, 12th Place

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    Last Week: 1-1-2. Crucial back-to-back extra time losses against the St. Louis Blues cost the Columbus Blue Jackets dearly last week.

    Current Record: 68GP, 32W, 27L, 9OTL, 73P

    Points From Eighth: Eight behind

    Games in Hand: Three

    Week Ahead: Tuesday vs Boston, Thursday vs Detroit, Saturday @ Minnesota, Sunday vs New Jersey

    Outlook: The Blue Jackets are almost out of the race. They do have three games in hand, but have to jump four teams (and eight points) to grab a playoff spot. They also have a very tough week ahead.

Minnesota Wild, 11th Place

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    Last Week: 1-2-0. The Minnesota Wild's playoff chances took a hit last week when they were shutout in back-to-back games against teams they're chasing, Nashville and Dallas.

    Current Record: 69GP, 35W, 27L, 7OTL, 77P

    Points From Eighth: Four behind

    Games in Hand: Two

    Week Ahead: Monday @ Vancouver, Thursday @ San Jose, Saturday vs Columbus, Sunday vs Montreal

    Outlook: Things don't get any easier for the Wild at the the start of the week as they face two of the best and hottest teams in the league. The Wild's chances for a playoff spot are slim, especially if they can't find a way to score soon.

Anaheim Ducks, 10th Place

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    Last Week: 2-1-0. The Anaheim Ducks won big against the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche, but lost a crucial "four point game" against the Phoenix Coyotes to close out the week.

    Current Record: 69GP, 37W, 27L, 5OTL, 79P

    Points From Eighth: Three behind

    Games in Hand: Two

    Week Ahead: Wednesday vs St. Louis, Saturday @ Los Angeles, Sunday vs Calgary

    Outlook: The Ducks are still in pretty good shape, but their weekend games are must-wins against teams they're chasing. The Ducks do own the first tiebreaker (non-shootout wins) to get in, so their chances are still pretty good, but getting All-Star goaltender Jonas Hiller back from injury would be extremely helpful.

Nashville Predators, 9th Place

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    Last Week: 2-0-1. The Nashville Predators got a point in San Jose against the Sharks, then won a "four point game" against the Minnesota Wild, and beat the Colorado Avalanche to close the week.

    Current Record: 69GP, 35W, 24L, 10OTL, 80P

    Points From Eighth: One behind

    Games in Hand: Two

    Week Ahead: Tuesday vs Los Angeles, Thursday vs Boston, Saturday vs Detroit, Sunday @ Buffalo

    Outlook: The Preds have a positive outlook because of their two games in hand on Calgary. They also play 10 of their final 13 games at home, which should be an advantage. However, the Preds have a tough schedule coming up, with games against many of the best teams in the league. Their chances are pretty good.

Calgary Flames, 8th Place

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    Last Week: 1-2-0. The Calgary Flames were in prime position after beating the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, but back-to-back regulation losses to the Phoenix Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks could prove very costly for the Flames.

    Current Record: 71GP, 36W, 26L, 9OTL, 81P

    Points From Eighth: The Flames are in eighth

    Games in Hand: The Flames have no games in hand on anyone

    Week Ahead: Tuesday vs Phoenix, Thursday vs Colorado, Sunday @ Anaheim

    Outlook: A pair of regulation losses last week has put the Flames in a precarious position. They own the eighth position right now, but everyone else has games in hand on them. This week's games against Phoenix and Anaheim could decide their fate. The Flames' chances are mediocre.

Chicago Blackhawks, 7th Place

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    Last Week: 0-1-2. After reeling off eight straight wins, the Chicago Blackhawks struggled last week, losing three straight one-goal games as they toured the Southeast Division.

    Current Record: 69GP, 37W, 24L, 8OTL, 82P

    Points From Eighth: One ahead

    Games in Hand: Two

    Week Ahead: Monday vs San Jose, Thursday @ Dallas, Sunday @ Phoenix

    Outlook: The Blackhawks chances are still very good, but they can't afford another week like they had last week. If they don't get some wins this week, their chances will be much bleaker. If they can beat Dallas and Phoenix, they should climb a little ways above the mess.

Dallas Stars, 6th Place

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    Last Week: 2-1-1. The Dallas Stars played all four games against Western playoff race teams, and came out with five of eight possible points. That's a successful week for the Stars.

    Current Record: 69GP, 37W, 24L, 8OTL, 82P

    Points From Eighth: One ahead

    Games in Hand: Two

    Week Ahead: Tuesday vs San Jose, Thursday vs Chicago, Saturday vs Philadelphia

    Outlook: The Stars play 10 of their final 13 games against teams in the Western Conference playoff race, so their chances are even more dependent on their remaining games than most teams. Their outlook is good though, and with so many games against other Western teams, they don't need to count on anyone else to get them in.

Phoenix Coyotes, 5th Place

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    Last Week: 2-0-1. The Phoenix Coyotes had a huge week, managing a point against the league-leading Vancouver Canucks, then beating the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks to move up in the race.

    Current Record: 70GP, 36W, 23L, 11OTL, 83P

    Points From Eighth: Two ahead

    Games in Hand: One

    Week Ahead: Tuesday @ Calgary, Thursday @ Edmonton, Friday @ Vancouver, Sunday vs Chicago

    Outlook: The Coyotes chances are good after a solid week, but games this week against Calgary and Chicago are crucial. The Coyotes can't afford to lose both of those in regulation. They also get to play the league-leading Canucks again as the second of a set of back-to-back games.

Los Angeles Kings, 4th Place

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    Last Week: 3-0-1. The Los Angeles Kings had a great week, gaining seven of eight possible points. They got a valuable regulation win against the Dallas Stars when, after the Stars tied it with 43 seconds left, the Kings responded quickly with a game-winner to prevent overtime.

    Current Record: 69GP, 39W, 25L, 5OTL, 83P

    Points From Eighth: Two ahead

    Games in Hand: Two

    Week Ahead: Tuesday @ Nashville, Thursday vs St. Louis, Saturday vs Anaheim

    Outlook: The Kings are in very good shape right now and could solidify their playoff spot with three wins this week. They're getting hot at the right time, but a winless week could drop them out of the top eight.

San Jose Sharks, 3rd Place

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    Last Week: 1-0-2. The San Jose Sharks were pulling away from the pack in the West, but back-to-back shootout losses kept them close enough to the crowd that a bad week could drop them into the mess.

    Current Record: 69GP, 39W, 22L, 8OTL, 86P

    Points From Eighth: Five ahead

    Games in Hand: Two

    Week Ahead: Monday @ Chicago, Tuesday @ Dallas, Thursday vs Minnesota, Saturday vs St. Louis

    Outlook: The Sharks are in great shape to get a playoff spot, but 12 of their final 13 games are against teams in the Western Conference playoff race. If the Sharks struggle down the stretch, the pack could catch up, especially the Phoenix Coyotes, who they play three times in their last seven games.

Weekly Outlook

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    This week could see a couple of teams move ahead of the pack, namely the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.

    It could also see the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild fall out of playoff contention.

    Then again, the race could just keep getting tighter.

    Be sure to check out San Jose vs Chicago on Monday night and Anaheim vs Calgary on Sunday night if you like a good old-fashioned bloodbath.


    Follow Erik on Twitter: @ekpaul87