Monday, March 14, 2011

Tri, Tri, Tri Again

Entering the month of March, we knew the T-Birds were going to have to play almost error free hockey over the final nine games in order to secure a playoff spot. We also knew that, well, that was a near impossible task because no one, not even the best teams, play error free hockey.

It's just that the T-Birds margin for error is so much slimmer than the other teams in the Western Conference playoff chase because they currently reside in last place in the ten team field. So, the fact the T-Birds have gone 3-2-0-0 so far this month, or the fact that over their last 10 games they have won twice as many games (6) as any of the other teams (Everett, Prince George and Kamloops 3 wins each) they're battling for those final two playoff spots, gets lost when you lose in the fashion the team did Saturday to the Cougars. It was a must-win game, a chance to pull within a point of a playoff spot and they didn't expend the effort needed to win the most important game of the season.

I'm going to expand on a subject I brought up last week; the bane of the T-Birds existence and the reason they may be left out of the playoff picture; the Tri-City Americans. Here's the breakdown for Seattle's season excluding Tri-City. Seattle is 8-8-2-1 against the B.C. Division with one game remaining Wednesday at Kelowna. That's a .500 record. Through March 5th, The Thunderbirds are 13-15-0-1 against the U.S. Division teams not named Tri-City; just slightly under .500. Against the 12-team Eastern Conference the 'Birds are 5-4-2-1 or, you guessed it,
around .500. That puts their overall record at nearly .500; 26-27-4-3...until you add in their numbers against the Americans. Seattle is 0-6-0-2 versus Tri-City with one game remaining. If the T-Birds could have done against Tri-City what they did against the rest of the league, which is to play a game under .500, they would probably be fighting for the 5th or 6th seed in the Western Confernce, rather than fighting for their playoff lives.

I bring this up because I'm kind of hoping it comes dowm to that final game of the regular season for Seattle. One game with a playoff spot on the line. Because the T-Birds final game of the regular season this Sunday is against Tri-City. What a great way to finish the year; earning a playoff spot on the last day and exorcising a demon in the process.

Here is the final pace to the playoffs chart. The numbers in parenthesis is the points earned, on average, per game so far this season. The number after that is games remaining An "X" denotes that team has clinched a playoff spot:

1. XPortland is on pace for 102.7 pts (1.426) 4
2 XKelowna* is on pace for 88.7 pts (1.23) 3
3. XSpokane is on pace for 101.647 pts (1.411) 4
4. XTri-City is on pace for 91.05 pts (1.26) 4
5. XVancouver is on pace for 75.17 pts (1.044) 4
6. XChilliwack is on pace for 74.08 pts (1.028) 3
7. Prince George is on pace for 67.88 pts (0.942) 2
8. Everett is on pace for 68.82 pts (0.955) 4
9. Kamloops is on pace for 64.8 pts (0.90) 2
10. Seattle is on pace for 64.58 pts (0.897) 4

* Kelowna, by winning the B.C. Division will get the #2 seed in the first round.

Still too tight to call for the top seed as Portland and Spokane may come down to their last meeting of the season, on the season's final day, to decide it. Of course the T-Birds could have a say in who gets the conference's top seed because they play both the Winterhawks and Chiefs once more each. Additionally the T-Birds could affect seeding for the second round as well. Kelowna could still pass Tri-City for the 3rd best record in the conference and that would come into play in determining which of those teams gets home ice in Round 2 should both advance and one of Portland or Spokane gets upset by a lower seed in Round 1. Seattle plays both the Rockets and Americans once more this season.

Even though the T-Birds have more games remaining then Prince George, the loss to the Cougars on Saturday means Seattle no longer controls their own fate, meaning if the 'Birds were to finish 4-0 they would need help getting into the postseason.

Games remaining:

Prince George: 2 (home and home series this weekend against Kamloops)

Everett: 4 All on the road (@ Portland, @ Spokane, @ Chilliwack and @ Vancouver)

Kamloops: 2 (home and home series this weekend against Prince George)

Seattle 4 2 @ home (Portland, Tri-City) and 2 on the road (@Kelowna, @ Spokane)

While the top four seeds in the Western Conference have been determined, it may not be until Sunday evening until we know the first round playoff pairings. Only two teams have locked in their first round seeding; Kelowna is the #2 seed and Tri-City is the #4 seed. Portland and Spokane have guarenteed home ice in Round 1 but like the Rockets and Ams, neither knows who its first round opponent will be. Likewise Vancouver and Chilliwack, even though both have earned a playoff berth and will start on the road, neither knows yet where to book the hotel reservations.

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