It goes without saying that finishing first in the conference is very important, but it’s likely going to be a lot more advantageous this year than last. Last year, the reward for finishing in first place was a date with the Chicago Blackhawks. I don’t think I need to remind anyone how hard that turned out to be.
Taking a look at the Western Conference standings as it looks today, the 8th place team is likely to be one of Phoenix, Calgary or Dallas. Colorado and Minnesota are also in the mix, but I don’t think they have what it takes to ultimately secure the final playoff spot. It’s also possible that Chicago or Los Angeles could slip up and finish in 8th, but I think that’s unlikely.
With a 14 point cushion on Calgary in the Northwest Division, the Canucks look like a sure bet to win their division. That ensures them a top 3 finish in the conference, but settling for 2nd or 3rd in the conference isn’t a wise state of mind.
Playing a weaker opponent in the first round is very important in order to finish off a series quickly and reduce the chance of injuries. If the Canucks finish in second spot, they would likely have to play the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are a team that the Canucks have had a lot of trouble with in recent years. They’re also big and physical. Avoiding the Kings and getting Phoenix or Calgary (the two most likely opponents to finish in 8th spot) would be advisable.
While Phoenix and Calgary aren’t exactly doormats, the Canucks match-up well against them. Calgary is a physical team, they have great goaltending and they have Jarome Iginla, but they’re thin everywhere else. Phoenix has the defensive coaching guru, Dave Tippett, but they don’t hold a candle to the Canucks in talent.
While it’s a bit of an obvious statement to make, it’s particularly important this year to finish in first place. The difference between the number 8 seed and the number 7 seed is likely to be immense. That’s why it’s important that the Canucks get on a roll down the stretch and surpass Detroit for top spot.