This article is part of our From the Press Box series.
In the Western Conference, all eight playoff teams have been decided, but the most intriguing races are for first place in each division. The Pacific Division has Anaheim and Los Angeles tied with 99 points, although the Ducks have a game in hand. The importance of the division win is twofold. First, that top team will avoid a tough first-round matchup against one of the other two California-based teams. Don't forget that San Jose, currently third with 96 points, has had a strong second half, so this opening bracket will be a tough round for sure. Second, that title winner is guaranteed to have home-ice advantage through the first two playoff rounds.
The pivotal game this week could be the head-to-head contest on Thursday when the Ducks make the short drive for a date in Los Angeles. Right now, the Kings hold the tiebreaker with more regulation wins (45-41) and effectively control their own destiny. A win over the Ducks in regulation time, followed by another home victory over Winnipeg on Saturday, gives them first place. Anything less than that – including an OT win on Thursday – opens the door for the Ducks, who have a tough back-to-back road trip to Colorado and Washington on the weekend.
The Ducks could take the driver's seat with a Thursday win and would make their lives simpler by winning in Colorado to clinch first place Saturday. Their preference should be to rest key players in that Sunday trip to Washington.