Game against Sharks huge for Coyotes

Game against Sharks huge for Coyotes

Published Mar. 28, 2012 11:53 p.m. ET

At least the NHL playoff picture is clear for the Coyotes. It’s a grim picture, but they’re used to that.

Phoenix awoke Thursday in ninth place in the Western Conference standings and fourth in the Pacific Division. You don’t need a degree to understand that would mean no playoff berth if things don’t change.

But there are silver linings in that news. All four of the remaining Pacific contenders – Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix – are even in games played at 77. All have five games remaining and all are separated by a mere two points.

It is also safe to say that the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche are done. Following losses Wednesday night, the best point totals those teams can achieve are 93 and 92, respectively. Based on some pretty good analysis from a number of sites, we don’t think those totals will get it done in this year’s playoff chase.

If you assume that Chicago (now at 93 points) is safely in the postseason (we are making that assumption), that leaves four teams vying for the final three playoffs spots – the same four that are vying for that coveted Pacific title which affords the No. 3 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round.

After Thursday’s home game against San Jose, the Coyotes don’t face another Pacific contender the rest of the season. Meanwhile, San Jose finishes with home-and-homes against Dallas and L.A. The Stars also have to go to Vancouver, go to Nashville and host St. Louis – a brutal road.

The Kings may have the easiest road. Aside from the two San Jose games, L.A. goes to Edmonton and Minnesota and hosts Edmonton. The Coyotes finish with home games against Anaheim and Columbus and road games at St. Louis and Minnesota.

Clearly, Thursday’s game against San Jose is critical for the Coyotes. If they win, they can watch the other division opponents beat up on each other, play three of their four remaining games against non-playoff teams and understand that the Sharks and Stars have far more difficult schedules.

The Pacific is still within reach, but the top shelf will look a lot higher if they don’t beat the Sharks.