Who will emerge in battle for West’s final playoff spot?
It’s often said that to snag one of the NHL’s final playoff spots, it’s all about “getting hot at the right time.” But in the West Division this season, we may be looking at a case of “you don’t have to play well, just slightly better than everyone else around you.”
Let’s rewind a month. On March 21, the Kings beat the Golden Knights 3-1 to improve to 13-11-6 on the season. That put them in 5th place in the West, five points back of the fourth-place Blues, who were tied on points with the third-place Wild.
Here’s how the standings looked after that night:
Since then, the Kings have won a grand total of four games, going 4-9-0 over the past month. A dagger to their playoff chances, right? Well, not exactly. LA has dipped to seventh in the division, but they’re no further from the postseason cutoff line now than they were back then. With 40 points in 43 games, the Kings are still just five points behind the final playoff spot, but they have four games in-hand over now-fourth-place Arizona (who is a whopping 16 points behind the third-place Wild).
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Here’s how the standings look as of Thursday morning:
So how did this happen? Well, look at how everyone else fighting for that last playoff spot has played lately:
• Coyotes: Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota was their seventh in the last eight games
• Blues: In the same span that the Kings have gone 4-9-0, the Blues have collected fewer points at 3-8-1
• Sharks: Wednesday’s loss to Vegas was their seventh in a row
As things stand on Thursday, the Blues are actually in the best position based on points percentage, as they are just one point back of Arizona with four games in hand.
Here’s how MoneyPuck.com is handicapping the race for the fourth spot:
• Blues: 46.2% chance to make postseason
• Kings: 25.5%
• Coyotes: 21.9%
• Sharks: 6.3%
The Blues are definitely in the driver’s seat, but at least compared to the Kings, their schedule is way more difficult. Of St. Louis’ 13 remaining games, 10 of them come against teams ahead of them in the standings (five vs. Minnesota, three vs. Colorado, two vs. Vegas). Of LA’s 13 remaining games, seven are against either Anaheim or Arizona.
The fact remains that plenty of hockey is yet to be played, and even though all four teams are slumping, a hot streak by any of them could be the difference. Let’s hope it happens.