The Pacific division in the NHL has been a frantic mess all season long. With constant changes of first to fourth, there has never been a clear cut favorite to grab the third spot in the West. At times, the Sharks, Coyotes, Stars, and Kings all looked poised to take a stranglehold of their division, only to be quickly jumped after a short skid and a spark by another team within the division.
The San Jose Sharks, currently leading the Pacific, have all the power as far as controlling their future in the division. Having 1 more point than Dallas, and 2 more than LA (all three teams with 6 games remaining), along with a 1 point/1 game in hand lead on Phoenix, the Sharks can win out and take command of the coveted third place finish in the West leading into the playoffs. Easier said than done. The problem the Sharks face in their final 6 games is that they have 4 of these 6 games on the road. They face the spoiler Ducks tonight, only to fly to Phoenix and play a huge, playoff-implication filled game against the Coyotes. Their joys don't end there though! After the 'Yotes match-up, the Sharks get a single days rest, and then they get to face their biggest threat, the Dallas Stars. Luckily for them, this one is in their building. The home ice advantage should play effect in these late season games. Unfortunately for the Sharks, they have to immediately turn around and head to Dallas to finish the home and home. If those four games weren't enough, the Sharks get to finish off their season with a home and home against the LA Kings; very possibly fighting for the Pacific crown in a two game series by that point. Fun Fact: Martin Havlat has recorded 7 points in the 7 games since his return from injury.
The Dallas Stars, though not sitting as pretty as the Sharks, have fairly decent control of whether they can punch their ticket to the playoffs or not. The problem they face, is playing keep up with those Sharks. Other than the home and home against San Jose, the Stars will more than likely have to steal 6 out of 8 points from the Oilers, Canucks, Predators, and/or Blues. Easier said than done. The Canucks and Blues will not be resting players by any means by this point. Both will be fighting until game 82 is over, as they both have significant chances of taking hold of the President's Trophy, and home ice all throughout the playoffs. Holding 1st and 2nd respectively within the conference, they are the top/most dangerous teams for a reason. As far as the Predators go, they are looking to stand pat in their safe 5th place position in the West. No question they'll be playing out their season, as they are desperately trying to hold off the Chicago Blackhawks. Finally, comes the other opponent they'll see in the final 6 games, the Edmonton Oilers. Everyone knows that these guys LOVE to play spoiler, and after the last few years of practice at it (no offence), they've gotten pretty good at it. They will be no slouches by any means. Clearly the Stars schedule looks much more difficult than those Sharks they are chasing, but if they can pick up some key wins and take down the Sharks in their home and home, they can certainly win the Pacific division crown. Fun Fact: The Stars are 5th in the league against Western conference teams this season.
Number three threat in the Pacific division goes by the name of the Phoenix Coyotes. Though the 'Yotes have one less game remaining than the other three playoff worthy teams in their division, they still have just as fair a shot at the crown. With a HUGE game coming up against the Sharks tomorrow, the Coyotes can pull in a very important two points that the Sharks would have desperately needed to virtually knock the Coyotes out of contention. After that, the Coyotes will need to win out more than likely, by finishing off their season against the spoiler Ducks, spoiler Blue Jackets (who they've struggled against all season), the West leading Blues, and the spoiler Minnesota Wild. With 3 out of 4 of their final games being against spoilers, they need to prove why they are where they are, and show why these other teams are spoilers. The Coyotes may also need help from other teams to defeat the Sharks, Stars, and Kings. Any slip ups and the 'Yotes are toast. Fun Fact: The last shutout Phoenix recorded was against San Jose.
The final threat, and my pick as the dark horse to take the Pacific is the LA Kings. It's real simple, the Kings are two points back, but with the games they have remaining, that means very little. They have a home and home that will likely determine the winner of the Pacific against the Sharks to end the season, but the games they have leading up to those games are nowhere near as threatening. The next best threat compared to the Sharks that they face in the final 6 are the Calgary Flames (who they play tonight). After that the Kings have to take down two non-playoff teams. The Oilers twice, and then the Minnesota Wild. If they take down the teams that they should, they will more than likely face San Jose twice to determine the division champ. Fun Fact: LA's top point-getter, Anze Kopitar, recorded 3 points against the Sharks in their last meeting.
The schedules should tell the stories of the fates of these four teams, but it's the NHL, anything can happen. Especially in that wild Pacific division..