It's crunch time. Seven of the eight playoff teams in the West are pretty much assured. Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose will be there. Where they end up is in doubt, but that 8th seed will go to either the Colorado Avalanche or Minnesota Wild. Let's break down the remaining games on each team's schedule and try to figure out who the final spot will belong to.
Colorado's Remaining Schedule
March 24th, vs. Philadelphia. Prior Meeting: COL 4, PHI 0 (November 10th). This is an equally important game for both teams. The Flyers are in the same boat as the Avs, trying to get the last playoff berth in the East. They're duking it out with the winged wheel of Detroit, where the Flyers and Wings are tied at 83 in points, but the Flyers have a game in hand. With both teams having a lot to play for, I expect a close game, but the Avs have had the Flyers' number in recent years, especially at Pepsi Center where the Flyers have not won in over a decade. Predicted Result: Avs win in overtime (2 points).
March 26th, vs. Minnesota. Prior Meetings: MIN 5, COL 4 (October 8th), COL 0, MIN 3 (December 5th), MIN 1, COL 2 OT (December 7th), COL 3, MIN 6 (March 1st). One would think the winner of this game will get a sizable edge in the battle for the eighth and final spot. Ever since the Wild beat the Avalanche in the playoffs two seasons ago, Colorado has flat out been scared to play the Wild, and it's shown. The Avs have shown signs of success against the Wild in Pepsi Center this season, however, and are due for a win. In addition, Colorado seems to be the hungrier team for that spot. Predicted Result: Avs win in overtime (2 points).
March 28th, at Nashville. Prior Meetings: COL 3, NSH 2 (December 12th), NSH 3, COL 5 (January 8th), NSH 5, COL 2 (March 5th). The Predators are perhaps the hottest team in the Western Conference right now, and as I found out when I attended December's game in Nashville, Bridgestone Arena is a tough arena to play in. The Preds have the chance to jump ahead of Chicago for the 3rd spot in the Central with Chicago's recent slump, so Nashville will have a lot to play for, and make this a difficult game to win. Predicted Result: Avs lose in regulation (0 points).
March 29th, at St. Louis. Prior Meetings: COL 3, STL 1 (December 13th), STL 3, COL 4 OT (January 6th), STL 1, COL 2 SO (January 22nd). The Avs' success over the Blues this year has been a nice change of scenery after the Blues' success against Colorado in the last couple of seasons. The Blues are a damn good team though, and have the chance to lock up home-ice advantage in the West throughout the playoffs with some wins. The Avs have their work cut out for them here. Predicted Result: Avs lose in regulation (0 points).
April 1st, vs. Washington. Prior Meeting: COL 3, WSH 7 (November 21st). The Capitals have been a machine this year and appear to be the overwhelming favorite to win the Stanley Cup. With that, and the dominating win they had over the Avs in the fall, I would almost give the Avs no chance to win this game. BUT! Washington locked up home-ice in the East last night, and barring a collapse and a massive hot streak from a team in the West, they'll probably win the President's Trophy and get home-ice in the Cup Final if they get there. So, there's a chance Coach Barry Trotz will sit out a star player or two like Ovechkin, Backstrom, or Oshie. Maybe they'll play their AHL team! That'd be nice! Predicted Result: Avs lose in overtime (1 point).
April 3rd, vs. St. Louis. See above for previous results. The Avs will win this game. Predicted result: The Avs will win this game (2 points).
April 5th, at Nashville. See above for previous results. These guys at their place again? Ugh. The Avs do will against the Predators, and can't be completely shut out by them in their remaining two games. Predicted result: Avs lose in overtime (1 point).
April 7th, at Dallas. Previous Results: DAL 3, COL 6 (October 10th), COL 3, DAL 1 (January 23rd), DAL 4, COL 3 OT (February 4th). The Avalanche do really well against the Stars since both teams have similar mindsets. Score as many goals as possible, don't do jack on defense, pray for good goaltending. Luckily, Semyon Varlamov is better than Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, whoever the Stars decide to play. Tyler Seguin is out, and Colorado should have Duchene back by this point, and hopefully MacKinnon. Even with Dallas having a lot to play for down the stretch, this is one the Avs very much could win. Predicted result: Avs win in regulation (2 points).
April 9th, vs. Anaheim. Previous Results: COL 3, ANA 0 (October 16th), ANA 0, COL 3 (March 9th). Shutting out Anaheim in the season series would be a true accomplishment. Don't count on it though with the Ducks' loaded lineup and the fact they'll probably have playoff positioning with the Kings and Sharks on the line in this game. Predicted Result: Avs lose in overtime (1 point).
Minnesota's Remaining Schedule
March 24th, vs. Calgary. Previous Results: MIN 5, CGY 3 (February 17th). It would be awfully nice if the Flames won this game, but they are playing bad and have no incentive to play hard. The Wild look to be playing well again, which is a terrible shame, and should get some help in the standings here. Predicted Result: Wild win in regulation (2 points).
March 26th, at Colorado. See above for previous results and analysis. Predicted result: Wild lose in overtime (1 point).
March 29th, vs. Chicago. Previous Results: CHI 4, MIN 5 (October 30th), MIN 2, CHI 1 (December 1st), CHI 1, MIN 6 (February 21st), MIN 3, CHI 2 SO (March 20th). So it seems like the Blackhawks only dominate the Wild in the postseason now. It'd be fantastic if Chicago could have given the Avs a bone and won a few of these games, but that's not what's happened. With how badly the Blackhawks are playing right now, and their success against the Wild this year, I can't see the Blackhawks helping the Avalanche's cause yet again. Predicted result: Wild win in regulation (2 points).
March 31st, vs. Ottawa. Previous Result: MIN 2, OTT 3 OT (March 15). I watched this game in its entirety, and frankly Ottawa had no business winning this game, much less getting it to overtime. If the same holds true once again, expect the Wild to walk away here with a win. Predicted result: Wild win in regulation (2 points).
April 1st, at Detroit. Previous Result: DET 1, MIN 3 (December 28th). Holy cow is this an impossible game to decide who to root for. The Red Wings are this close to missing the playoffs for the first time since the dawn of time, and no one here wants to see them playing postseason hockey once again. But we'll need them on this night, and since they probably will make the playoffs just to give us the middle finger, they'll lend a hand here. Predicted Result: Wild lose in regulation (0 points).
April 3rd, at Winnipeg. Previous Results: MIN 4, WPG 5 (October 25th), WPG 3, MIN 5 (November 10th), WPG 3, MIN 1 (November 27th), WPG 1, MIN 0 (January 15th). A lot has changed since these teams last met. The Jets traded their captain and have fallen off the metaphorical hockey cliff and have a shot to get the #1 pick in the draft. They won't want their nearest neighbor to make the postseason if they can't, and should give the Wild a game. Predicted Result: Wild lose in regulation (0 points).
April 5th, vs. San Jose. Previous Results: MIN 2, SJ 0 (December 12th), MIN 3, SJ 4 (January 23rd). The Sharks are heading back to the playoffs and poised for a brutal first round matchup against either the Ducks or Kings. You know they'll want to win this game and make sure a majority of that series' games are in the tank. Predicted Result: Wild lose in regulation (0 points).
April 9th, vs. Calgary. See above for previous results. It's odd that the Wild have three days off in between their penultimate game and their last game. I think you can make an argument both ways if that's good for us, or bad for us. I'm going to say it's good for us, bad for them, because screw the Wild! Predicted Result: Wild lose in overtime (1 point).
Final Points Standings and Closing Thoughts
If by some miracle all my predictions become reality, the Avalanche will finish the season with 91 points and the Wild will finish with 89 points. That means the Avalanche will make the playoffs and the Wild will not. That would be glorious and I pray to the hockey gods that it happens. It will be very close though. I will be shocked if going into the last day of the season, on the 9th, if the Avs know their postseason fate one way or the other. It will come down to that day.
The Avs have the tougher schedule between the two, but I don't mind that since the Avs have played to their level of competition most of the year, and they know they'll have to play great hockey games to win. The next couple games without Duchene will be tough, and we might be without MacKinnon for the rest of the year. We just don't know how Nate's knee is holding up. Who knows what might happen with player health on both sides, but it will require 100% effort from both teams, and some help to make it to mid-April hockey.