Now that the Super Bowl is over, it's officially time to get excited for the NHL Playoffs. For most teams, less than 30 games remain in the regular season and the race to the postseason picks up intensity. Before we preview this week's schedule for the Colorado Avalanche, it's time to look at the current division leaders and rate their chances of securing home ice during the playoffs.
Let's start in the Eastern Conference. Here are your current divisional leaders:
Philadelphia Flyers: The Atlantic Division has been a Pennsylvania race all season, as the Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins have been switching places at the top. But with the recent news that Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin will miss the remainder of the season with a torn MCL, the Flyers just clinched the division. They are in the catbird's seat for the top seed in the East.
80% chance at Home Ice.
Boston Bruins: The Bruins have the best goalie in hockey this season, as Tim Thomas has put up video game numbers all season. But the recent loss of Marc Savard with concussion symptoms seriously damages their offensive depth. They are strong defensively, but there is plenty of pressure riding on Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron to carry the offensive load. Still, with a Montreal Canadiens squad that has overachieved all season likely to slip a bit as well, Boston is a good bet to win the Northeast Division.
5% chance at Home Ice.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning have seen a resurgence this year, with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis lighting up the scoreboard. But it's been the addition of goalie Dwayne Roloson that has turned this team into a legitimate Cup contender. If any team has a chance to surpass the Flyers in the standings and claim the No. 1 overall seed in the East, it's the Lightning from the Southeast Division.
Vancouver Canucks: Does this team have a weakness? They have superb goaltending in Roberto Luongo, they have the top line in hockey, and they have depth. Scary, scary team.
99.99% chance at Home Ice.
Dallas Stars: As of right now, all five teams in the Pacific Division are in the playoffs. Dallas has led the entire season, and Brad Richards is having a spectacular year. They are the favorites to win the division (right now), but they don't have a shot at the No. 1 overall seed.
0.00% chance at Home Ice
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have lost two of their three best forwards in Pavel Datsyuk and Danny Cleary for an extended period of time. They have a very unstable goaltending situation, as neither Howard or Osgood can be relied upon to steal games. They have a young and hungry Nashville Predators team nipping at their heels. Yet if any team in the Western Conference has a chance of overtaking Vancouver this season (and it's a minuscule chance), it would be the Detroit Red Wings. But they have to get healthy -- and soon -- to even be in the conversation.
0.01% chance at Home Ice
Colorado Avalanche Schedule Preview
After starting out the post-Break portion of their schedule with two disappointing losses, the Avalanche will get reinforcements this week. Ryan O'Reilly is likely to return from his shoulder injury, as is winger David Jones. But the biggest news of all is the return of Peter Forsberg. Let's hope the return of these three forwards will give Colorado a lift through a winnable stretch of road games.
Monday, February 7 @ Phoenix Coyotes Fantastic. The Coyotes again? They've been responsible for the two most painful Avalanche games to watch in the past month, and yet we
get have to play them again. You likely know the story now: Phoenix will slow down the game, Ilya Bryzgalov will be a giant, and Colorado will likely lose a game that is zero fun to watch.
Wednesday, February 9 @ Minnesota Wild Copy Phoenix paragraph. Paste. Replace "Ilya Bryzgalov" with "Niklas Backstrom" and "Phoenix" with "Minnesota"...
Oh. Wait. Peter Forsberg's likely debut. Scratch that. You have to watch this game if you are an Avalanche fan.
Friday, February 11 @ Columbus Blue Jackets Goalie Steve Mason is on the trading block, and the early season hope in Columbus has dwindled. Colorado has historically dominated Columbus, and there's little reason to see that changing this week.
Saturday, February 12 @ Nashville Predators Nashville has cooled down from their 5-1 spanking of the Avalanche in January, having lost four of their previous five games. Their offense still struggles to score goals, but Pekka Rinne is a force in net. Expect a dogfight. (This will also be the first game that pits Forsberg against his former team. What, you didn't remember that he was once a Predator? For shame...)