The Western Hockey League’s home stretch is upon us, and the bubble is getting smaller by the day.
The Prince Albert Raiders are the latest to have their hopes of a postseason dashed in Wednesday’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Raiders fell victim to one of Medicine Hat’s trademark comebacks after holding a two-goal lead in the third, and the single-point dividend wasn’t enough to keep them in the wild card hunt.
Prince Albert joins the Kootenay Ice and Vancouver Giants on the list of mathematically eliminated teams, though a handful still hang by a thread.
The Edmonton Oil Kings never really recovered from their 16-game point-less slide and sit 13 points outside the picture with just eight games left on the docket. Out west, the Spokane Chiefs still stand a snowball’s chance, but they’ll have to make up nine points on the Portland Winterhawks in just 10 games. The Chiefs — the only Western Conference team still fighting for a playoff spot — have two games against Portland and a game in hand to make up some ground, but face a challenging divisional stand to close out the regular season.
While it’s a relatively tepid stretch, expect some fireworks in the Eastern Conference wild card race between the card-holding Calgary Hitmen and chasing Saskatoon Blades. Both teams have struggled of late, but with just two points separating the pair — and at least eight points between them and anyone else in the standings — something’s got to give in the final nine contests.
The divisional races are all still up for grabs as well, though the Pats have still earned themselves 10 points of breathing room and two games in hand on the Moose Jaw Warriors for the East Division lead entering their final 10 games.
While the Tigers have held the top of the Central Division since the onset of the season, the Lethbridge Hurricanes made plenty of noise over the last two months to battle within four points of the banner. With eight games left apiece, it seems almost destined for the division to come down to their season-ending home-and-home series.
A similar trend has been seen in the U.S. Division, with the Seattle Thunderbirds surging up the standings to tie the Everett Silvertips. While the ’Tips have two games in hand for a total of 10 left on the schedule, they’ll have to take on the reigning Western Conference champion T-Birds twice before entering the postseason.
Even the Prince George Cougars, who started the season on an incredible tear, have seen their division lead dwindle with the postseason on the horizon. The Kamloops Blazers have been on fire of late, closing the B.C. Division gap to just three points with seven games remaining. And if that isn’t enough, the pair will face off four more times before the book closes on the regular season, starting this weekend with a pair of games in Prince George before closing out the schedule with a home-and-home series.
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