The final day of the 2011-12 NHL regular season has arrived, and the 16 teams which will be in the playoffs are now known. What had yet to be decided at the time this article was posted is the seeding of the teams.
This story is about two clubs going in different directions: one will go on to the playoffs, while the other will watch from the outside yet again. However, only one team will be able to disrupt things for the other.
It was all so different for both at the end of October. The Edmonton Oilers were first in the Northwest Division and tied with Chicago for second in the Western Conference with a 7-2-2 record; by the end of November, they had slid to a 12-10-3 mark to make them 10th in the conference and third in the division behind their hated rivals, the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks went the other way: they started off badly, but steadily improved as the weeks and months went by. On Halloween, they were tied with Anaheim for ninth in the conference at 5-5-1 and third in the Northwest, five points behind Edmonton. A month later, the Canucks stood in fifth place at 14-9-1 for 29 points and four points behind Minnesota for the lead in the Northwest. They never looked back from that point.
Most recently, Vancouver has gone on a run which has seen them win seven of their last eight games and put them in contention for a second straight President’s Trophy, symbolizing the top team in the league. Incredibly, that streak came together without top goal-scorer Daniel Sedin, who has missed all those games due to a concussion sustained in Chicago on March 21. In the Swedish forward’s absence, defenseman Dan Hamhuis has provided a steadying influence on the blueline while former Flame and Canadien Chris Higgins has scored five goals during that span.
Then the streak came to a sudden halt on Thursday night in Calgary as the Flames scored three goals in the third period and stopped the Canucks 3-2.
Two teams stand between Vancouver and the No. 1 standing. The first is the New York Rangers, who would clinch that title by defeating the Washington Capitals. The other is the Oilers, who must beat the Canucks outright. Vancouver only needs a point from the contest to get the Western Conference crown; that one point would also be enough for the Trophy if the Rangers fall to the Capitals in regulation. If both the Canucks and the Rangers manage only a single point each, New York would be declared the top team because of more total wins.
Their provincial counterparts tripped up the West Coasters on Thursday night; it’s up to Edmonton now to finish what Calgary started, and to do what they can to thwart their divisional competitors. It won’t be easy: the NHL betting line gives the victory to Vancouver. The Canucks have won four of five games in the season series, and goaltender Roberto Luongo is particularly sharp against Edmonton at Rogers Arena. Regardless of the outcome of this game, though, the Oilers will have some soul-searching to do in the off-season.