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With just a week and change to go before the Olympics get underway, teams are searching for the best way to balance their own needs with how much their stars might tire themselves out in Sochi. This comes at a time when many teams have to decide what to do with their best players while divisions, seeds and playoff spots in general are on the line. It will be a raucous time before the Olympics break, so let’s look at what would happen if the playoffs started as of Wednesday, January 29, before the day’s games:
Vancouver not only has to deal with Minnesota for positioning, but Phoenix is no longer too far behind, especially with a game in hand over the Canucks. Anaheim is still in firm control of the entire West, and Vancouver might not have enough offensive firepower to keep on the pressure and finish Anaheim fast like they’ll need to.
Los Angeles has been steadily losing ground, and is in danger of dropping to a Wildcard spot soon. While San Jose won’t be overtaking Anaheim, they have been nearly as good at home as the Ducks, and represent a difficult challenge for the Kings.
With three straight wins, the Blues have matched Chicago at 77 points, but have three games in hand. A stellar goal differential continues to make the Blues an elite force, while the Wild can’t match the production of St Louis. They also have some trouble on the road, which will make things that much more difficult.
The Blackhawks have all of a sudden been having trouble matching offense with defense at the same time; this has given Colorado the chance to move ahead if the Avs can win their three games in hand over Chicago. Chicago has still been able to score plenty and retain the advantage, but with their recent play, a Colorado victory can’t be considered out of the questions.
Carolina has made a nice little push to get back into the conversation, though with a -16 goal differential, the worst of the 16 playoff teams, they have a very difficult road ahead. Pittsburgh has been far too dominant all season long to let Carolina get the better of them.
Like the Hurricanes, the Flyers have been having trouble solidifying their best possible position due to a noticeable negative goal differential. That has allowed the Rangers to keep their lead for #2, and since they’re sub-.500 at home on the season, that means to get this high in the standings, they have the ability to pick off multiple road games. Given that the Flyers are .500 on the road, they’ll have to spend just enough energy in the first six games so that they’ll still have something left for Game 7, a tricky endeavor.
All of a sudden, the Bruins are unstoppable, scoring six goals in each of their last three games. Meanwhile, the Canadiens have had trouble on both sides of the puck lately, excepting Tuesday’s 3-0 shutout of Carolina. Without a massive slowdown of Boston’s sudden offensive power, Montreal has little chance against their most heated rivals.
Toronto has plenty of power, but even with their recent run, having given up 170 goals isn’t a good sign for Stanley Cup ambitions. Tampa Bay can score more than enough to take advantage, though they do have to be careful to protect their own net before they fall into any trap games.
Tags: Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, NHL Playoffs, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks