With the regular season winding to a close, the playoff picture is becoming clearer. What we know:
* Tampa Bay vs. Montreal is happening.
* Chicago vs. Colorado is happening.
* Three out of the four divisions are sewn up: Pittsburgh, Boston, and St. Louis are going to be playing wild card teams.
* San Jose or Anaheim will be too.
So, with it coming down to five teams – again, Pittsburgh, Boston, St. Louis, San Jose/Anaheim – I thought it would be fun to rank their biggest wild card nightmares. You know how hockey is. 8 seed-1 seed upsets happen (hell, the Kings won the Cup as an #8 seed), 7-2s are barely uncommon, and any matchup closer than that is basically a coin toss.
For the teams who’ve put in the work all year for home ice and “easier” opponents, here’s who they’d least like to draw in round one:
(Washington, New Jersey, I’m sorry – I had to draw the line somewhere, and you guys are cooked.)
Let’s be honest: Boston let Toronto win Thursday in hopes they could draw an easier round one opponent than Columbus. They want them in.
…Okay, fine, mayyybe not “let” Toronto win, but you know they wouldn’t be bummed to see them come playoffs.
The Leafs are in a perpetual state of chaos. They’ve got a couple talented d-men who are young and make glaring mistakes, they’ve got little in the way of depth, and quite frankly, last year’s psychological assault would more or less render playing the games pointless. The B’s would walk through the Leafs like they were a ghost, which is fitting, considering their season is pretty much dead.
I’ve been as much of a Coyotes supporter in years past as a guy can be because I admire what they do. On a nickel-and-dime budget they find undervalued players (think Antoine Vermette) who contribute more than their own teams know they do, and they field a competitive team. They’ve had a great past few years.
But I just don’t see it in this years Coyotes. They aren’t a real threat.
I just can’t see a team at the top of the West going “Boy, sure hope we don’t draw the Coyotes, they…work hard, I guess?” They’re just not dynamic enough to hang with the big boys.
The Wild’s long run of “being okay” keeps them consistently in this spot – somewhere in the #7 to #10 seed range. The problem in the past has been this mediocrity – they never finish poorly enough to draft high, and they’re rarely real contenders. After signing big free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, they’ve gotten the bump from mediocre to slightly-better-than-mediocre.
And while they’re competitive and a little more fun to watch than they have been in years past, there’s just not a reasonable way to think that they could hang for more than 5-6 games against LA, St. Louis, Chicago, San Jose or Anaheim. So while they wouldn’t be pure pushovers, I don’t see them as much of an upset threat.
Columbus is in an interesting situation. They’re trying to keep their head above water with a few teams trying to chase them down for the final wild card spot, but if – and this is a big if – they can finish well and surpass the Detroit Red Wings, they go from first round pigeons to a legit threat to win a round.
If they draw Boston they’re getting smoked. If they draw Pittsburgh…man, I dunno. Sergei Bobrovsky is a stellar goalie, Nathan Horton has changed the team, Ryan Johansen is an emerging star… for a franchise that has never won a single playoff game, these final few regular season games could dictate if they’re contenders to win a round or not.
Nobody wants to draw the Stars. Nobody.
Among the other teams who could sneak into the West wild card spots – Minnesota and Phoenix – Dallas is the team that makes you most concerned. They have a crazy good first line in Seguin-Benn-Nichushkin, they have a far better supporting cast than people realize (some names you may have just learned this year like Chiasson, Eakin, Garbutt and Roussel can play, and mostly play a gritty style), and their goaltending is underrated.
They’re gettable, particularly on the back-end, but they wouldn’t be an easy out. They could make some noise.
You knew this was coming.
Any time you have a team that looks sure to make playoffs that’s played the majority of their season without their best players, you respect them. When you see they might get said best players back just in time for playoffs, you fear them.
It happens every year in hockey – a good team struggles through a tough season, only to have things come together at the end. They draw a low seed, and whammo – you’re playing The Detroit Red Wings, and not the detroid red wangs they’ve been for most of the season.
The emergence of the kids Nyquist, Tatar and Jurco have been nice compliments to the other pieces they’ve always had. They’re well coached. They took down Boston the other night, and while I wouldn’t pick them to do it four times in seven games, you know the Bruins would MUCH rather see Columbus, Toronto or Washington/New Jersey.