Entering play Wednesday, the eighth spot in the East is a three-way tie between the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders who all share 48 points.
Out West, 48 points is one point more than the 12th-place Anaheim Ducks, while the Los Angeles Kings are staying afloat with the eighth and final playoff spot with 53 points. The Boston Bruins don?t even have 53 points, as they own the No. 5 spot in the East with 51 points.
When you glance at the standings from a positional standpoint, you would think the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild have no chance of making a postseason run, but in fact, they are only two points behind the Bruins.
The B's will have their work cut out for them this week in sunny California, no matter where their opponents own real estate in the conference standings. You can?t look at their place in the conference — you have to examine the personnel and records of the teams the Bruins are about to face off against: Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles.
They?ve won four in a row, own a 13-8-2 home record this season and boast a big three in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. They also are six points out of a playoff spot, and unless they make a run soon, a number of their veteran players could become available at the deadline (Scott Neidermeyer, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne). You can be sure the Ducks will do everything in their power to make sure that doesn?t happen.
The team to beat out West and a Stanley Cup contender. Sitting atop the Western Conference with 67 points after taking sole possession of first place over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night, the Sharks are 9-2-0 in their last 11 games. They are 14-4-5 at the HP Pavilion, and boast arguably the best line in hockey and most likely Team Canada?s top line in Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau (the NHL?s active goal scoring leader) and old Bruins friend Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe is due for a Cup, and his team is as primed as ever, with Dan Boyle anchoring the blue line and an NHL-best eight San Jose Sharks representing their nations at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. Need I say more?
Don?t look at their three-game losing streak as an indication of what the Kings are — or aren't — capable of. L.A.'s 23-year old Team USA goaltender and former UMass Amherst standout Jonathan Quick has helped his team earn 53 points out West, which is two better than the Bruins currently have. And with a 25-18-3 record, the Kings are the better team than the B's on paper. Los Angeles is the final stop on the Bruins' Cali trip, and hopefully by then, the B?s will have the services of Mark Stuart and Patrice Bergeron, and perhaps a more solid effort from the other high-paid members of the team who have yet to earn their pay.
The road out West, no matter which way you travel to get there, is nothing shy of a mountain climb. And the three teams on deck for the Bruins will prove to be quite the challenge.