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Sports >  NHL

Here are possible NHL playoff matchups for the Kraken

March 14, 2023 Updated Tue., March 14, 2023 at 8:22 p.m.

The Seattle Kraken’s Matty Beniers, right, celebrates a goal against the Dallas Stars with Jordan Eberle on Saturday in Seattle.  (Tribune News Service)
The Seattle Kraken’s Matty Beniers, right, celebrates a goal against the Dallas Stars with Jordan Eberle on Saturday in Seattle. (Tribune News Service)
By Geoff Baker Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Well, that whole “win the Western Conference” thing didn’t last even a week for a Kraken squad that dropped three games the past five days.

After consecutive losses to Dallas, the Kraken’s chance of running the Western table were likely lost as well. For the same reason, they remain in no serious danger of missing the playoffs – too many points to overcome and too little time.

With 15 games remaining, the Kraken trail conference-leading Vegas by seven points and next-best Dallas by six. Conversely, they are up eight points on Nashville and Calgary teams vying for the conference’s final playoff spot, and that gap has been the same and has even grown the past five weeks.

Still, there are important things to keep an eye on with the schedule in its final month. For starters, when could the Kraken, who play Thursday at San Jose, clinch a playoff spot?

Well, the NHL’s “loser point” system of single points for overtime and shootout losses – which the Kraken capitalized on in Saturday’s defeat vs. Dallas – keeps the standings artificially close. So a clinch often doesn’t happen for anyone but the best teams until the final two weeks of the season.

The Boston Bruins, vying for a season-points record, are the only clincher thus far.

For the Kraken, it’s looking as if the earliest they’d clinch will be inside that final two-week window.

One reason is Nashville has played three fewer games and could use those to whittle away at the Kraken’s eight-point lead. So even though the Predators would need their biggest win streak of the season and the Kraken to collapse for that gap to be overcome, Nashville can keep things seemingly close.

The Kraken can pretty much eliminate the Predators roughly 1½ weeks from now. That’s when they finish consecutive road games against Nashville that the Predators would have to sweep to maintain any realistic hope of overtaking the Kraken.

As for Calgary, the Flames have no games in hand. So even if the Flames go 10-5-0 from here, the Kraken can still hold them off playing sub-.500 in a schedule backloaded with losing teams.

Also, the Flames capturing two of every three from here appears slim given they’ve won consecutive games only once since the All-Star break. The Flames are “loser point” kings, tied with Dallas at a league-high 13.

The Stars are 37-17 in other games, and the Flames are only 30-24 and staying in the hunt somewhat artificially. As long as the Kraken handle business against teams they should beat – starting with the Sharks on Thursday – they’ll have nothing to worry about when it comes to the playoffs.

But they likely won’t clinch until after they play Arizona at home, just more than three weeks from now. That will come with one week and four games remaining on their schedule.

There is plenty to be decided until then, namely all-important playoff seeding. Remember, the first three teams in each division are automatically in, and the two next-best finishers in the conference earn wild-card berths.

That’s why Saturday’s matinee game against Edmonton at Climate Pledge Arena looms large. The Kraken entering Tuesday were third in the Pacific Division, four points behind second place Los Angeles and one up on the Oilers.

The second- and third-place finishers in each division play each other in the opening playoff round. If the standings hold – and beating the Oilers would help that – the Kraken would open the playoffs in Los Angeles facing the Kings.

Worth noting, the Kraken host the Kings on April 1. Any hope of flipping third place to second and gaining home-ice advantage over Los Angeles could hinge on that game.

Since the NHL trade deadline, the Kraken are 1-2-1 against teams with upgraded rosters. And they’ll face four of them through that April 1 showdown with the Kings, starting with Edmonton on Saturday, then a road trip beginning next week with Dallas and ending with Minnesota.

The two games against Nashville are also mixed in, so the Kraken – while still in a cozy playoff perch – need to up their play to avoid tumbling down the conference standings.

Los Angeles would be a decent opening-round matchup. The Kraken have won their past three games at arena and four in a row over the Kings since last March.

Likewise, facing the Oilers if they and the Kraken overtake the Kings probably isn’t the worst outcome. The Kraken are 1-2 against Edmonton this season – that victory at Rogers Place – and the Oilers will be under tremendous playoff pressure from their demanding fan base.

But if the Kraken finish lower than third, they’d be a wild card and play one of the two division winners. Los Angeles could still win the Pacific, but it’s more likely the Kraken open on the road against a stacked Vegas squad they’ve beaten just once in six lifetime matchups and never at home. Or travel to face a Stars team they’ve defeated once in five lifetime matchups and never on the road.

One last note should the Kraken fall into a wild-card spot: Their final two games are against the Golden Knights. That could make any Seattle-Vegas first-round matchup akin to a best-of-nine series rather than a best of seven.

Remember, the division and conference standings are so close that those two games could matter plenty seeding-wise to both teams – including whether they’d face each other in the opening round. Meaning, they might not have the luxury of easing up or resting players.

So even though a Kraken conference title seems unlikely, they still have plenty of big upcoming games before the playoffs begin. And it would behoove them to start winning some to better their chances of lasting in that postseason party.

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