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The Wild, Wild West

February 11, 2010
 credit: NHL.com

Photo credit: Sportslogo.net

As the Western Conference heads into the Olympic break, 14 of the 15 teams are still alive in the playoff race.  Top teams like San Jose and Chicago have solidified their playoff spot.  The Sharks and Blackhawks look like they have wrapped up their division crowns and will battle for the number one seed.  The rest of the conference is entirely up for grabs.

The Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks are trading the Northwest Division lead back-and-forth.  The division title makes all the difference in seeding.  The winner will capture the third seed, while the loser could finish anywhere from fourth to outside of the playoffs.

Out in the Pacific Division, two young, up-and-coming teams, the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes, are battling it out.  The two teams are ranked fourth and fifth in the West.  The way both have been playing, they should be in the middle of the pack when the smoke clears in April.

The most heated battle to watch in the West is for the final two spots.  The difference between the seventh and fourteenth place is only ten points.  Nashville (69 points) and Calgary (67) currently hold the last two spots, but the Predators and Flames have both slipped in the standings since the beginning of the year.  Detroit (65), Anaheim (65) Dallas (64), Minnesota (62), St. Louis (61), and Columbus (59) are all still alive and breathing down the neck of eighth place.

Detroit, the defending Western Conference champion, has faced an enormous amount of injuries this season.  They are expecting to be fully healthy with all their players back after the Olympic break.  They could be a dangerous team that the top teams might not want to see in the playoffs.   The Ducks also have a ton of playoff experience and pulled off a first round upset just last season.  Anaheim snuck in as an eighth seed and beat the number one seeded
Sharks.

With so many teams in contention, the Western Conference playoff race will likely come down to the very last week of the season.  Every point counts these days.  Fans will be treated to a playoff atmosphere every night with so many teams battling.  It will truly be a wild finish in the Western Conference.

Photo credit: NHL.com

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