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Clinches in Pinches: The NHL Edition

The NHL season is winding down. Who will take it all the way home and win Lord Stanley’s Cup?

Tampa Bay Lightning Preshow by Ms. Gemstone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Clinches in Pinches: The NHL Edition

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

I know baseball season is starting, I get it. But, for me and many more…

Forget baseball! It’s Hockey Time!

As we race through the final games of the season, the standings are shaking up day to day. Each conference is seeing surprising changes in their line ups every night. Even I am shocked by certain teams hitting slumps right now and others renewing their energy. Let’s take a minute to look at what’s set, what’s not and what’s exciting.

The West is where the wildcard is interesting.

The West conferences have been quicker to lock down their playoff berths in general. All three spots for each division are clinched in full as of this week. Even with the President’s Trophy in the East, the powerhouses of the West left the lesser teams of the conference in the dust long ago. That leaves huge players like McDavid out of the running despite great individual performances.

But the wildcard slots are far from set. Five teams are still within striking distance for the two spots. The Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche are clutching at small leads in front of the Arizona Coyotes, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks. If Dallas or Colorado were to lose those remaining games, it is anyone’s game, as the others could win their way into a last minute upset. This is especially true of Arizona, who has just won a game and should have at least one easy one in that final few games. Everyone else has a tough schedule to end it out, including against each other. It will be fun to see how this all shakes out.

I wish I could say the East was interesting.

For the past few weeks, the East has been a few select teams gaining steam and switching berths with each other, but not much flipping in the lower parts of the bracket. As much as I love watching the Caps and Islanders flip flop for home ice and a grudge match, it isn’t a big rush of desperation. Only the Montreal Canadiens are anywhere close to making a small wildcard upset. And that would have to see the Hurricanes blow a game coming up in their easy run to the end of the season, playing all eliminated, underwhelming teams. At this point, it’s mostly about home ice advantage.

That being said, technically the Penguins, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets have to clinch. Mighty collapses could still happen after a few weeks of consistent surging from these teams. The only reason the Hurricanes recently lost a blow in the standings was a loss to a conference rival, the Penguins. All three of those teams are climbing on final moments of momentum, so perhaps they may run out of steam.

What does all this mean for the playoffs?

The playoffs are going to be all about the Lightning. Despite their historic President’s Trophy victory, they haven’t won a cup yet. In fact, the franchise only has one cup and that’s well over a decade ago. As I’ve mentioned in a past article, a fast run to the President’s Trophy often means no Stanley Cup is coming. It often results in a collapse in energy and disappointment. After winning so many games in an 82 game season, it isn’t any wonder that a collapse occurs when the game total hits 90 or even 100+. That being said, Tampa Bay has been extraordinary and has a lot of veterans there that are thirsty for the win. Can they pull off a miracle and beat the statistics? That’s the story to watch. And if they don’t make it happen, who will be the sleeper cell to win it all?

I’m ready for playoff hockey! Are you?

Sarah Jane, Sarah, or SJ-depending on the source-is a director, educator, theatre artist and now, sports blogger. She lives in Queens with her darling, not-so-sports-fan boyfriend. She played ice hockey growing up for the NJ Quarry Cats and various other teams. Being team captain her last two seasons is the most important achievement of her life to date. She proudly also was about a quarter of the size of her opponents and often led her team in both penalty minutes and enthusiasm. She's a Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers fan (thanks, Momma!) and a New York Yankees fan (thanks, Poppa?) and was given zero choice on all three of these teams. Other hobbies include reading non-fiction books, cooking, and being spunky. Check in with her for all your greater hockey needs!

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