Crazy first half sets up for a crazier finish in NHL -

Crazy first half sets up for a crazier finish in NHL

(HockeyStL) -- This abbreviated hockey season has been almost a blur for many since the labor dispute ended in January.

Those who missed the sport during the lockout have definitely gotten enough hockey in the last two months with games scheduled almost every other day.

The 48-game season kicked off to a furious start with the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks pacing the league with zero losses in regulation as of February 1. Since then the Sharks have lost six in regulation, but the Blackhawks continue its impressive run for consecutive games played without a loss in regulation.

The lockout has seemingly not fazed the Blackhawks, who have a point in 22 consecutive games to start this season. Obviously, that stretch puts them atop of the Western Conference standings.

At some point they will have to lose in regulation. It won’t take much to clinch a playoff spot so will the early clinching of a playoff spot hurt or help the Blackhawks in the playoffs?

Aside from the Anaheim Ducks, who sit in second place in the conference, the Western Conference is up for grabs. The difference between the third seed and 15th seed is only 10 points. Take it one step further, there are six teams with 24 points, including the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues, who are nearly identical from last season, have been way off the mark since starting 6-1-0. A lack of defense mixed with a struggling offense coupled with injuries to key forwards have led the Blues to a 5-7-2 record since February 1. Was last season a fluke or are the Blues just underperforming?

The Detroit Red Wings wouldn’t be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Let that soak in. It’d be the first time the team missed the playoffs since the 1989-90 season.

A quick look at the Eastern Conference and you will see two players dominating. Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos have 36 points through 23 games and 34 points through 22 games respectively. Their respective teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, have similar stats, but Stamkos’ squad finds itself outside the top-eight in the conference after losing its last five games.

The second half is gearing up for a fun finish with a lot still to be determined.

It appears most teams may stay quiet with the trade deadline approaching and little separation in the standings. Don’t expect any major blockbusters as a result.

The Blackhawks will lose a game in regulation. Why? Because it’s too hard not to.

The Red Wings will make the playoffs and let’s hope clinch the No. 8 seed. A Blackhawks-Red Wings matchup in the first round would at least knock one rival out of the playoffs for the Blues.

The Blues will get a boost when Andy McDonald, Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko return (whenever that might be). It’ll be as good as a trade and should jet the team into the playoffs.

I’m not brave (or stupid) enough to try to predict anymore. Let’s just expect to see the unexpected.

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