Wings and some prayers

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Seven weeks of action remains on the NHL slate, and the Detroit Red Wings are in a place Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama can only dream of being.

The Red Wings are on to the next round. OK, not officially seeing as they haven't mathematically claimed a playoff spot, but it'll take a collapse even George W. Bush and his popularity couldn't match.

What about the rest of the Western Conference clubs eying those playoff berths? Barring miracles for the Edmonton Oilers, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings, they'll be eliminated if they aren't already.

Still, that leaves 11 teams with a shot at the seven post-season invitations:

DALLAS STARS -- 2nd, 75 points (35-21-5)

Tall Task: Over 11 days, they play five games consisting of a home-and-home series with Colorado, as well as Detroit, Vancouver and Anaheim. A skid could dash first-place hopes. Smooth Sailing: A three-game homestand against Chicago, Nashville and Phoenix. Synopsis: San Jose has a few games in hand, and Anaheim is a handful back, but could both overtake the Stars, who have a middle-of-the-road schedule in terms of difficulty? Playoff spot is certain.

MINNESOTA WILD -- 3rd, 70 points (33-21-4)

Tall Task: A four-game road swing that runs through San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. Smooth Sailing: A visit to all five of the Southeast Division teams book ends home games against Los Angeles and Chicago. Synopsis: Thanks to the easiest sked in the division, the Wild are the best bet to claim the Northwest. Unless they fall flat in the road trips, they're likely in the playoffs.

ANAHEIM DUCKS -- 4th, 71 points (32-22-7)

Tall Task: The Ducks are looking at the worst spell remaining. A seven-game homestand starts with Dallas, Calgary and Colorado. St. Louis, Chicago, Calgary, again, and Ottawa also visit. Smooth Sailing: The Ducks don't have a long easy run, but a four-game stretch against Montreal, Phoenix, Vancouver and St. Louis should help. Synopsis: After a slow start without Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, the defending Stanley Cup kings should make another run.

SAN JOSE SHARKS -- 5th, 70 points (31-18-8)

Tall Task: San Jose has an outstanding road record, but it will be put to the test starting Sunday when the Sharks play eight games in 13 days. Smooth Sailing: The Sharks have the toughest sked among playoff-potential teams. The only respite is late when they play Phoenix at home and then have a home-and-home with L.A. Synopsis: Likely a playoff team and can win the division, but it will be tough with that schedule.

CALGARY FLAMES -- 6th, 66 points (29-20-8)

Tall Task: The five-game trip through the Pacific which they're on could be the hardest spell. Concluding with a four-game trip that starts and ends in Vancouver is no peach either. Smooth Sailing: No easy spells, but the best time could be a four-game trip to Washington, Atlanta, Chicago and Columbus in mid-March. Synopsis: The Flames have a tough sked, with nine of their last 25 at home. They should make the playoffs and could push for the Northwest crown.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS -- 7th, 66 points (30-23-6)

Tall Task: The Preds aren't a strong road team, and a six-game trek that starts late this month could be painful. Smooth Sailing: Other than one game in Detroit, Nashville ends with two games against St. Louis, Chicago and Columbus. Synopsis: The best-case scenario is sixth, but it's hard to imagine they'll miss.

COLORADO AVALANCHE -- 8th, 65 points (30-23-5)

Tall Task: A five-game road trip to end this month will be tough, but the Avs' final nine games are against Northwest teams. Smooth Sailing: Games against Vancouver surrounding a visit by L.A. at the end of this month. Synopsis: The Avs are no sure thing, even with Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny back.

VANCOUVER Canucks -- 9th, 64 points (28-22-8)

Tall Task: In March, the Canucks play 15 and 10 are on the road. Smooth Sailing: Should they survive, the Canucks get a four-game homestand. Synopsis: Can't be written off.

PHOENIX COYOTES -- 10th, 62 points (29-25-4)

Tall Task: To start March, Phoenix faces the Flames, Dallas, Montreal, Ottawa and Anaheim. Smooth Sailing: 15 of their remaining 25 are at home. Synopsis: They're a good bet to miss.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS -- 11th, 61 points (26-24-9)

Tall Task: Starting tonight, with a five-game trip. Smooth Sailing: Of their final 15, nine are at home. Synopsis: Unlikely to make the playoffs for the first time.

ST. LOUIS BLUES -- 12th, 60 points (26-22-8)

Tall Task: A nine-game road trip starting March 5. Smooth Sailing: The final five games features a pair against both Columbus and Nashville, as well as a visit from Chicago. Synopsis: The Blues might stand a chance with some games in hand.


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