Crystal Ball Prognostications
By Shamus O'Callahan
Hockey Historian and Internet Columnist
Well, we're a week out. One week from today, the playoff match-ups in the NHL will be set. Finally. Then we can all enjoy what is indeed the best time of the year and watch the drama unfold in the greatest tournament in professional sports -- the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But I've done some studying in advance of the final standings and I believe I have the match-ups in the Western Conference determined. It took a slide rule, a calculator, a cover-to-cover read of this week's Hockey News and about 37 Dr Peppers, but I've got the match-ups for you.Locks
Let's start with what we know, or at least what I believe to be locks for seeds in the West. There actually is no 100% lock yet on a seed, but this as close as it comes.
The Vancouver Canucks have arguably the best goalie in the West this season (Roberto Luongo) and have ridden him to a probable division title. Now they've settled in to Seed #3 and looking at their remaining schedule (LA, COL, at SJ, at PHX), there's not much chance that they'll advance or lose the division to Minnesota.
I think it is safe to say that Vancouver will land in the Three Seed.
I guess I should have started with Calgary as the Eighth Seed, if we're talking about certainties. The Flames settled into their spot at the beginning of March and have built a little house there. But they've won a few games in a row now and are threatening to move up. But I don't see that happening. They're the only team that hasn't flip-flopped around the standings on a daily basis. Scary thought -- Kiprusoff is your prize for winning the West Regular Season title as the Number One Seed.
Our final "lock" is the Minnesota Wild, who were on fire for much of March but have cooled off a bit, as of late. Minny will set up shop in the Seven Slot. They still could climb out of this spot, but I think it is doubtful.Educated Guesses (aka Central Division Leaders)
Since I'm all out of certainties, time to move on to "probables". I expect the following to happen:
Detroit will get the Number One seed. They currently hold the top spot and I dare say will not relinquish it with a schedule that includes two games against Columbus and two against Chicago (with all due respect to Hitch and the team with the best hockey sweater in the league). The Wings lead their division by just one point and are tied with Anaheim for most points in the conference, but have a game in-hand on both of them and should be able to close things out.
Speaking of Columbus, who is responsible for handing them the worst schedule to finish out the year? The Jackets play Detroit twice and host Dallas and Anaheim. The three teams have a combined record of 142-63-30. Yikes.
Detroit grabbing the top spot leads us to our next probable -- Nashville. The Preds will finish with the Number Four seed as a result of division winners automatically getting the top three slots. Nash is not a big fan of the Four Seed, as they also landed in it last year and bowed out to a good San Jose team. You can bet that they'll get another talented team in the five hole this year. More on that later.
Up for Grabs (aka The Pacific Division)
The battle for the Pacific will literally go down to the final day of the regular season. Anaheim, Dallas and San Jose are in a dogfight, and what makes things even better is that there are two HUGE games this week that feature head-to-head matches and will go a long way in deciding who wins the division.
San Jose is at Anaheim this Wednesday, and then the Ducks travel to Dallas on Friday. Anaheim and Dallas control their own destiny. San Jose does not but is right there in position should one team falter.
If Dallas wins its remaining games (including Anaheim in regulation), the Stars win the division. Same for Anaheim.
The way I figure it, these three teams will finish with the Number Two Seed (division champ), Number Five Seed, and Number Six Seed. Now we just have to determine the order.
I like the winner of Friday night's game in Dallas between the Stars and Ducks to determine the division champ. I see Anaheim beating the Sharks in SoCal on Wednesday, with the Stars and Ducks taking care of business in their other games this week. Anaheim plays SJ and is at DAL and at CBJ. Dallas hosts STL, is at CBJ, then plays ANA and CHI.
All that said, let's pencil in San Jose for the Six Hole. They have LA, at ANA, CGY and VAN left on the schedule. They'll get their points but it won't be enough.
Can you imagine the intensity and excitement at American Airlines Center this Friday for the Ducks-Stars game? I'll be there for sure, and I'm going to predict that Dallas takes this contest from Anaheim, helped along by the home ice advantage. (What can I say? After all, I'm a Stars fan and I just got through watching Dallas take 4 points from Nashville and Detroit on the road over the weekend. I'm a little fired up).
Dallas will land the Number Two Seed while Anaheim gets the Five Seed. (told you Nashville would not enjoy the Four Seed. Again.)
So your playoff match-ups in the West will look like this:
1 Detroit vs. 8 Calgary
2 Dallas vs. 7 Minnesota
3 Vancouver vs. 6 San Jose
4 Nashville vs. 5 Anaheim
You heard it here first. Could I be wrong? Sure, but my scientific methods are proven. I had Ohio State and Florida in my BCS Bowl predictions and also in my NCAA bracket using the slide rule (and of course the Dr Pepper). Last season I used darts and a Magic 8 Ball and that didn't get me anywhere. But this year, I'm cooking with gas.
See you Friday for the battle to possibly catapult Dallas to its eighth division crown in 10 seasons. Bring the noise.
The statements, opinions and predictions are thatof the writer and do not reflect the opinions one way or another of DallasStars.com or the Dallas Stars Hockey Club. But we hope he's right.