A look at the NHL's wild West

Sure, the Eastern Conference has the league’s best team (Boston Bruins), its most exciting player (Alex Ovechkin) and some of the best rivalries around (Rangers-Devils, Penguins-Flyers, Canadiens-Maple Leafs and so on, and so on …)

But have you seen what’s going on out West?

Ten of the bottom 15 teams are separated by only 10 points. The difference between fifth and 10th places is just two points. While that’s odd enough to start with, and much can happen between now and the end of the season, consider some of these nuggets …

The St. Louis Blues – a last-place finisher in the Central each of the last two seasons - still have a chance to get into the playoffs for the first time in five years.

While there’s still hope in the Gateway City, that would be an even more remarkable feat after having lost highly touted defenseman Erik Johnson to a season-ending knee injury in September, sparkplug forward Andy McDonald for 36 games with a broken ankle, extended absences of Paul Kariya, Jay McKee and Eric Brewer and the release – finally - of starting goaltender Manny Legace.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are usually long out of the postseason chase by this time, but thanks to likely Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason in goal, they’re tied for sixth place as they seek the first playoff berth in the franchise’s eight-year history.

The Dallas Stars woke up after sleepwalking to a 7-11-4 start over the season’s first six weeks with Sean Avery in tow. Starting with their first back-to-back wins in late November, Dave Tippett’s club has gone 20-10-3 – and has allowed six goals in their last six home games.

Even also-rans like the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are still in the hunt for their first playoff spots since 2002.

The Colorado Avalanche are last with 51 points, but are one hot streak away from being right back in it. All they need is an upgrade in goal over Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft – a latter-day Jim Carey.

With less than 30 games to play – and the trade deadline coming up - it’s going to be a fun sprint to the finish.

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