It comes down to the wire like this every year, but for some reason it
always seems as though the current year is the most exciting playoff race
ever. But this race may have an argument against any in recent
There are 11 teams in the West in playoff contention, while 12
clubs in the East are going strong with postseason aspirations. Only
Atlanta, Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Minnesota and Nashville are
thinking of next year already.
Six teams in the East are within four points of each other for the final
two playoff spots. While things aren't so tightly bunched out West, there
are seven teams within seven points for the last four
positions. And as things stand now, early-season powers Edmonton and Calgary
would be sitting at home, while late chargers Phoenix and New Jersey would
Philadelphia, Boston, Carolina and Toronto are in line for home-ice advantage, though Ottawa could push Toronto for the fourth spot, and the Leafs and Sens still could make it interesting for the Bruins atop
the Northeast. The Hurricanes are likely to finish with fewer points than either the Leafs or Sens, but will still get the No. 3 seed as
the Southeast Division winner. That means Ottawa or Toronto will battle for the fourth seed to host what is shaping up to be a rematch of their first-round series from the past two seasons, both won by the
Detroit, Colorado, San Jose and Chicago have home ice in their sights
barring a major final-month collapse. The Sharks and Blackhawks are tied at
80 points, seven ahead of the Blues, Kings and Coyotes. Even if Chicago
finishes with more points than San Jose, the Sharks would get the third seed
as Pacific champs while the Hawks would get a tougher matchup against the
fifth seed, which could end up being their archrivals the Blues.
Here is our early pick for how the playoff positioning will end up:
6. New Jersey
7. N.Y. Islanders
3. San Jose
5. St. Louis
7. Los Angeles
It says here that Philadelphia beats Ottawa in the Eastern Conference
finals and Colorado beats Detroit in the Western Conference finals, before
the Flyers knock off the defending champs in six games to bring the Cup back
to Philly for the first time in 27 years.
Net loss In the
six games PC (post-CuJo), the Leafs are 2-2-2, hardly the look of a
Cup contender. But in their defense, five of those six games have been away
from the Air Canada Centre. Toronto has allowed 17 goals in the six games,
which isn't too far off of Curtis Josephís GAA of 2.16. But Corey Schwab is hardly the confident force you want backing up
what has been a porous defensive unit for the past six weeks. Schwab is
6-7-2 with a 2.97 GAA and a .886 save percentage this season, so look for
Toronto to make a move to get a veteran goaltender (Ed Belfour or Mike
Vernon?) before the trade deadline.
to none Though hot-shot rookies like Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley and
Pavel Datsyuk have stolen a bit of his thunder, one second-year guy in
particular is putting the league on notice.
Wild left wing Marian Gaborik scored in four consecutive games last week to
end a 12-game goalless drought in a big way. Gaborik started his big week by
scoring his 19th goal of the season to establish a club record, besting his
rookie total of 18 from last year. He followed up with two goals in a 3-0
road victory over the Blues on Thursday and scored one in a 5-3
win over the Stars on Friday. On Sunday, Gaborik recorded his second hat
trick of the season and added an assist in a 5-0 victory over the Blue
N.Y. Islanders @ Buffalo -- Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST
Two days after beating up on a former teammate, the Sabres again
play host to another reunion in Buffalo. Michael Peca returns for the first time as an
Islander. Fortunately for the hometown fans, things are going well right now
in a last-ditch playoff push, as the Sabres have won three in a row.
Toronto @ Boston -- Thursday, 7 p.m. EST
The Bruins lead the Leafs by one point in the tightly packed Northeast, and the Sens sit just two points behind Toronto in third. The
winner of the Northeast likely will get the second seed behind Philly, while the
loser will be the fourth seed because the Southeast Division winner will get
the third seed, making head-to-head meetings like this one extra
Colorado @ Philadelphia -- Saturday, 3 p.m. EST
The top team in the East plays host to the second-best team in the
West in what could be a Stanley Cup Finals preview. The Avs are 4-1-1 since the Olympic break while
the Flyers are 4-3 with two consecutive home losses.
Plus: Phoenix Coyotes Everything Wayne Gretzky is
touching right now is turning to gold. The 'Yotes are on a four-game win
streak, have won 12 of their past 18 and look like they might be a dangerous
team to face in the early rounds of the playoffs.
Minus: Ilya Kovalchuk Itís a shame that Kovalchuk
suffered a season-ending shoulder injury that likely will cost him the Calder Trophy to teammate Dany Heatley. Even worse, with
the Thrashers out of playoff contention, it will cost fans some sick, jump-
out-of-your-chair Kovalchuk one-on-one moves.
Plus: Evgeni Nabokov As if his excellent play in
nets isnít enough, Nabby has added an offensive arsenal to his game.
Nabokovís empty-net goal on Sunday in Vancouver was one of the plays of the
year and only served to punctuate his solid play recently (14 goals
allowed in six games since the Olympic break).
Minus: Daniel Sedin How the mighty have fallen.
Daniel Sedin was a healthy scratch for the Canucks on Sunday for the first
time in his career. Regarded as the more talented of the Sedin twins, Daniel
has just 22 points in 63 games this season after scoring 34 points last year
as a rookie. Come to think of it, maybe the whole 1999 draft class is just
cursed, as the top four picks (Atlanta's Patrik Stefan, the Sedin twins and
Phillyís Pavel Brendl -- originally a Rangers draft pick) all appear to be
busts three years later.
Plus: Buffalo Sabres After tearing ex-teammate
Dominik Hasek to shreds Sunday, the Sabres hope to pick a pack of pickled
Peca this week. Buffalo has won three in a row and is just three points
behind Montreal and the N.Y. Rangers for the final playoff spot in the
Minus: Tommy Salo The hits just keep on coming for
Salo. After taking one off the noggin' to lose to Belarus in the Olympics,
Salo has been awful for the Oilers, allowing 13 goals in four starts. The
rough part of that stretch was the four goals in 13:59 Salo let in on Friday
night in Edmontonís 5-4 loss at Florida.
"Judge Judy has a better understanding of the game right now than Colin
Campbell, I bet. I got convicted and there was no murder.Ē
-- Leafs defenseman
Jyrki Lumme after being suspended last Monday for two games for
cross-checking Sabres winger J.P. Dumont.
can I say? I was excited to be back, but disappointed after the game. We
were a little sluggish, and I didn't have my best game either. The way we
played, we had no chance of beating them."
-- Red Wings goalie
Dominik Hasek after giving up four goals in his first game back in Buffalo
Not a bad week for Eric Lindros on a personal level, but the Rangers
continued to struggle, dropping three of four games. Lindros scored a goal
and two assists in four games, but his defensive play continues to be
subpar. Though he was even for the week, the Big E is minus-7 in 2002, after
starting the season an impressive plus-19 in the first 37 games.
The Rangers play host to Montreal on Monday, Boston on Wednesday, make
the short trip across the Hudson River to face New Jersey on Saturday
afternoon and wrap up the week by playing league-leading Detroit in the
Garden on Sunday afternoon.
Follow Lindros' progress this season here in the Head Games section of
the Glance every week.
Last week's topic: Which team is most likely to make a
late-season push to sneak into the
Calgary is going to make the playoffs and upset Detroit. The Flames have
had Detroit's number for years and Turek/Hasek would be a nice matchup for
bragging rights in the Czech Republic. Joel Workman, Calgary,
The Sabres will squeak into the playoffs, win the East and face Hasek in
the finals. WOW, wouldn't that be great? The Sabres have a very young
talented team and when they play all out, can beat anyone. Maxim Afinogenov
is the most improved player in the NHL this season. Brian Fiorello,
The Washington Capitals, because they have two guys that can carry a team
into the playoffs in Jagr and Bondra, and a game-stealing goalie in Kolzig.
But first they must learn how to play as a team. David Enriquez,
Staten Island, N.Y.
The Calgary Flames, because Jarome Iginla is full of confidence after an
outstanding Olympics and is spreading that vibe through the dressing
room. Ryan Craig, Calgary, Alberta