Wild should make it as wild card

Wild should make it as wild card

March 15, 2019 7:00 AM
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The National Hockey League’s regular season is now down to its final month, so it’s time to select the wild card clubs from each conference.

Western Conference

In: Minnesota and Colorado.

The Wild finally figured out it is a physical team which plays with far too much finesse. When it bumps and grinds and win puck battles in the corners of late, the results have been positive, including a nine-game points streak capped by sweet win at No. 1 Tampa Bay.

Should the Avalanche advance, one horrible aspect to their game will no longer be around for the playoffs: 3-on-3 overtime. Colorado is ranked tied for the bottom with 12 losses in the gimmicky OT system. Plus, starting with Saturday’s win vs. Buffalo, the Avs only play five of their last 13 against playoff-bound teams. And most of their contest are home at Pepsi Center.

Out: Dallas, Arizona.

Ever since the Stars won the 1999 Stanley Cup on Brett Hull’s highly disputed goal in triple overtime vs. Buffalo, the Stars seem to be snake-bitten with poor luck. They made the big Mats Zuccarello deal at the trade deadline, then he gets hurt less than two periods into wearing Dallas green. Now Marc Methot is hurt, although captain Jamie Benn just came back and registered a hat trick vs. St. Louis to mark his return. They can’t rely on G Ben Bishop and top penalty killer Andrew Cogliano (from Anaheim at the trade deadline) to do all the work.

By current form, the Coyotes may be the best of the rest. Arizona owns an 11-6-1 record since the CBA mandated, six-day break, including wins in eight of nine entering Monday’s game with Chicago. Head coach Rick Tocchet, always in the conversation for the Adams Trophy, patiently molded a club which could make the jump in 2020. They mirror the late-season run by Florida last season, rallying from 15 points out of a wild card berth to nearly catch New Jersey on the final weekend of the season. Goalie Darcy Kuemper owns a solid .938 save percentage over his last 14 games (12-2), including last week’s shutout of Calgary.

Eastern Conference

In: Montreal, Carolina (Pittsburgh to finish third and gain an automatic playoff berth).

Les Canadiens took time to mesh because their top four scorers — Max Domi (Arizona), Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay), Tomas Tatar (Vegas) and Phillip Danault (Calgary) — only joined the club in recent years. Goalie Carey Price, beyond an occasional hiccup, in back in form while defensemen Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are healthy. Plus, the schedule is balances with no long trips except one Central Time Zone game in Winnipeg.

The Hurricanes have been featured in this column for the past month with all the smart moves by general Don Waddell and the molding of the talent by coach Rod Brind’Amour. “Caniacs” don’t like that Carolina ranked first in shots allowed, but the goaltending has them 19th in goals allowed, which helps, but is no trend to long-term playoff success. Also, allow me call my shot: 21-year old right wing Sebastian Aho will lead the NHL in goals after Alex Ovechkin retires, someday supplanting Teemu Selanne (1,457 points) and Jari Kurri (1,398) as the NHL’s career scorer leader from Finland.

Out: Columbus.

Blue Jackets management did everything right, but if scoring leader Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky really want to leave Ohio, what incentive do they have for a big stretch drive? 

Last week’s split with Pittsburgh only kept the status quo, as they have slipped from second place down to non-wild card status, by going 3-4-0 of late. Schedule-wise, they still to travel to the Canadian west for three, a trend that doesn’t bode well for Eastern teams this late in the season.

Thursday

Canadiens at Islanders: The Isles have hit a wall, They’re not used to playing 82 full games and be in a “pennant” race. Too many Habs have been there, done that. CANADIENS

Friday

Hurricanes at Blue Jackets: This one could signal the demise of the Jackets. Carolina is much improved. HURRICANES

Saturday

Oilers at Coyotes: Even when the ‘Yotes were really bad, they beat the Oilers — they’ve won 18 of 27 over the last five seasons. COYOTES

Sunday

Canucks at Stars: If the game’s in Big D, it must be obvious. Don’t expect a whole lot of scoring in this one. UNDER

Last week: 1-3

Season: 40-47

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