Western Conference Race Far From Settled

After a weekend dominated by college basketball and government on television, the NHL’s Western Conference has become a dogfight. On Friday morning, the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks were the top two seeds in the conference. On Monday, the Sharks will wake up as the fourth seed.

The reason the Sharks are now trailing the Phoenix Coyotes, albeit by just one point with a game in-hand, is because San Jose has fallen apart. They’ve lose six straight games while Phoenix has won nine consecutive contests to make the balance of power shift in the conference a dramatic one.

While the Sharks have lost six straight, the Blackhawks aren’t taking advantage. The Hawks are just 4-4-2 in their last ten and will now host the Coyotes on Tuesday night with the conference lead on the line. Duncan Keith was embarrassed by the latest loss, another in a string of games the Blackhawks appeared to have in hand late in the third period only to see slip away late.

The luxury the Blackhawks have that the Sharks do not is an extra game in-hand, but calling that a “luxury” might be a stretch. The Hawks have been without Kim Johnsson for a week and Brent Seabrook has now missed two games after taking a cheap shot from James Wisniewski, leading to Brent Sopel playing his heaviest minutes of the season and Dustin Byfuglien being moved back to defense. Byfuglien has been solid in two games on defense, but his presence in front of the net has been missed on offense.

Considering the Hawks inability to close games lately and the number of players they have been without on the blue line, the Hawks might be the happiest team in the conference to hit the reset button on April 12 and start fresh.

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