O'Callahan: Possibilities Abound
By Shamus O'Callahan
I just finished watching the Ducks-Sharks game on Center Ice in what was one of the best games I've watched in a while. San Jose wins, 3-2, in the shootout.
What does that mean for Stars fans? Well, I spent the next hour or so staring at "The Grid" -- an Excel spreadsheet made up every March to follow the race for the playoffs. It includes each of the teams still alive in the hunt for the playoffs with their current record and remaining schedule.
Usually you can make some educated guesses on what will be the final playoff match-ups, especially with just four days remaining in the regular season. Well, you might as well take out a dartboard and make your picks that way with the standings in their current form. I'm actually more confused about the direction of the race than I was 24 hours ago.
THE PACIFIC RACE
Anaheim needs 2 points in their last two games to clinch the Pacific. They play at Dallas and at Columbus. San Jose and Dallas each remain alive for the division, but each needs help to catch the Ducks. The Stars would need to beat Anaheim in regulation on Friday and then have Anaheim earn no more than 1 point at CBJ. San Jose would also have to lose at least 1 point to Calgary or Vancouver for Dallas to win the division. The Sharks' only hope to win the Pacific would be to win out and have the Ducks earn only 1 of 4 remaining points. Remember, the first tie-breaker is total wins.
Anaheim is in the driver's seat, but things can change overnight.
THE MESS IN THE MIDDLE
Here's where it gets choppy. Vancouver is settling into the Number 3 Seed spot, but the 4, 5, 6 & 7 Seeds could all change up until the final game is played.
Nashville, San Jose and Dallas remain within 4 points of one another, with Minnesota waiting in the weeds with two winnable games left on their schedule (EDM, STL). We've all been assuming that Nashville was going to be the 4 Seed, but they've fallen back to the pack a bit and now could be caught by San Jose and Dallas (can you imagine a Sharks-Stars first round series? It's possible). If the Stars and Sharks win out and Nashville drops 2 of 4 remaining points, Dallas will play San Jose. Even the Ducks can jump into the 4-5 possibilities if they falter.
Meanwhile Detroit is 1 point away from clinching the top seed in the West, with two games vs. Chicago on the docket.
Calgary needs 2 points to clinch the 8th and final playoff spot, but Colorado still has a slim chance. The two teams play each other on the last day of the season (both have three games left).
I think it is fairly safe to say that Calgary will play Detroit.
People have been asking me for the last 48 hours what team I think the Stars will draw for their first round opponent. Until the Sharks-Ducks game was over, I was predicting Nashville. Now I'm not so sure.
The Predators are 3-5-2 in their last 10, while Dallas and San Jose are a combined 15-3-2. What does that say about Nashville's chances to stay in 4th or 5th? Hitting the playoffs on a roll can be very important.
Friday night's game with Anaheim at Dallas will go a long way in determining the Stars' fate. If the Stars win it, I don't see them finishing lower than 5 (probably still getting Nashville). But get no points in that contest and I can see a Vancouver-Dallas match-up in round one.
So here are my odds on Dallas' first round match-up, as of Thursday morning:
|Stars vs. Minnesota||5%|
|Stars vs. Nashville||40%|
|Stars vs. Vancouver||40%|
|Stars vs. San Jose||15%|
No doubt I'll be changing these projections following the Stars' game at Columbus on Thursday evening. Stay tuned. If you think this is fun, wait until next week when the playoffs begin.