Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NHL's Western Conference Will Be Wild Again

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NHL's Western Conference Will Be Wild Again

Article excerpt

At about the midpoint of last season, the Minnesota Wild looked to be in trouble. In the NHL's toughest division, they had an 18-19- 5 record, hardly encouraging in the self-proclaimed State of Hockey, and you had to wonder how long coach Mike Yeo might be around.

Then the team got goalie Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk was an unlikely hero, leading the team on a run that saw them finish with 100 points. They then, you may have heard, knocked off the Blues in the first round of the playoffs before losing to eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the division final. Even though Chicago won that series in a sweep, three of the four games were decided by one goal.

That's life in the wild, wild Western Conference, where teams can go from nowhere to somewhere in the flash of a veteran goalkeeper. In the two seasons since the league went from six divisions to four, all but two Western teams Arizona and Edmonton have gone to the playoffs, and all the Oilers have done since last season is get Connor McDavid, the most exciting player to come down the road in a generation.

The West is a conference where nothing is guaranteed. Just because teams like the Ducks or the Blues had the most points last season is no assurance they'll get in this season. Two years ago, the Kings won the Stanley Cup. Last year, the playoffs went on without them.

A year ago, Dallas was second in the league in goals scored with 281 but didn't make the playoffs. If the Stars can allow fewer goals this season they were 26th in goals allowed maybe they can pick up the seven points they came up short last season. If that's the case, you have to take a look at the West and say, OK, who's coming out?

If you want to make the case the West is best, there are plenty of ways to do it. Western Conference teams have won the past four Stanley Cups, five of the past six and seven of the past nine. (One of those seven teams, Detroit, has subsequently moved to the East.) Western Conference teams won 235 games against Eastern teams last season; Eastern Conference teams won 211 from the West. (Adding in overtimes and shootouts, West teams came out 34 points ahead of the East.)

But who will be the king? (Other than, of course, the Kings, who by cleaning up their off-ice act goodbye, Slova Voynov should be in better condition to fight their way back into the postseason.) The Ducks and Blues finished with the most points a year ago. The Wild have become a player. So has Nashville, which looked like the best team in the Central for much of the season before the Blues' late run gave them the division title. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne was unbeatable in the first half of the season, more beatable in the second half. He finished second in voting for the Vezina Trophy, behind NHL MVP Carey Price.

That's one of the things that will make the West in general and the Central in particular so maddening: Anybody seems able to step up. …

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