Friday, March 23, 2012
Playoff watch: Kings take Pacific Division lead
By Mark Stepneski
Teams changed positions in the Western Conference on Thursday night, but the situation remains the same. It’s tight. Five teams are separated by two points. It’s three points separating six teams.
With their loss to the Canucks on Thursday night, the Stars dropped from third place in the West to eighth. Three losses –- all of them in regulation –- over the last four games will bite you in a tight race. When you get no points in three of four games, you are eventually going to slip. But the Stars are only one point out of the Pacific Division lead. Of course, they are only two points ahead of 11th place Calgary, the team Dallas plays against in its next two games. More on that in a bit.
The Kings, who made it six straight wins with a 1-0 shootout victory over St. Louis, are now sitting on top of the Pacific Division and in the third spot in the West. It sounds good, but their grip on that is just as precarious as when the Stars started the day Thursday. They Kings have a one-point lead on the 10th place Sharks. No reason to celebrate just yet, but the Kings are playing some pretty good hockey right now.
The Coyotes also passed the Stars and now sit in seventh place in the West. Playing their first game without captain Shane Doan, who is serving a three-game suspension for elbowing Stars forward Jamie Benn, the Coyotes beat Colorado 3-2. The Coyotes have won only four of their last eight games, but they have points in seven of eight (4-1-3). Avoiding those regulation losses and picking up points has helped keep the Coyotes right in the thick of things.
This was a big loss for Colorado, which dropped into ninth place. The Avalanche are tied with the Stars at 85 points and are just one point behind the Coyotes and Kings, but have played two more games than Dallas and Los Angeles and one more than Phoenix.
San Jose snapped a two-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over Boston. The Sharks are just one point out of the division lead and one point behind the Stars for eighth place. Just when it looks like the Sharks are reeling a bit, they come up with a big win.
Calgary lost 2-1 in a shootout at Minnesota. It left the Flames in eleventh place, two points out of a playoff spot. The Flames haven’t won in four games, but they have picked up one point in each of their last three losses. That’s helped them hang in the race. This home-and-home coming up with the Stars is basically do or die for them. They need to win these games and gain ground or their chances really start to fade. It’s going to be huge for the Stars as well, because if they let Calgary gain ground on them then chances are they will lose some ground to the teams they are now chasing.
No games in the West Friday night, so enjoy an evening of no scoreboard watching.