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2012 NHL Playoff Race: Dallas Drops From 3rd To 8th With One Loss

The NHL's Pacific Division has become the most important division title race in the 2012 playoff race, as evidenced by last night's drop by the Dallas Stars, who with a 2-1 loss to Vancouver, fell from the third seed in the Western Conference to the eighth and final spot.

Dallas entered the night with a slim one point lead over Los Angeles and Phoenix, with San Jose close behind. The Stars' loss combined with the Kings' win (1-0 over St. Louis in a shootout) thrust L.A. into the Pacific lead - and the division's automatic Top-3 seed - with 86 points. The Kings are tied with Phoenix, who loses the tiebreaker and settles for seventh, while the Stars are now eighth with 85, tied with ninth place Colorado.

Western Standings

St. Louis Blues 75 46-20-9 101
Vancouver Canucks 74 44-21-9 97
Los Angeles Kings 74 37-25-12 86
Detroit Red Wings 74 44-25-5 93
Nashville Predators 74 42-24-8 92
Chicago Blackhawks 75 42-25-8 92
Phoenix Coyotes 75 37-26-12 86
Dallas Stars 74 40-29-5 85
Colorado Avalanche 76 40-31-5 85
San Jose Sharks 74 37-27-10 84
Calgary Flames 75 34-26-15 83
Anaheim Ducks 75 32-32-11 75
Minnesota Wild 73 31-32-10 72
Edmonton Oilers 74 29-36-9 67
Columbus Blue Jackets 73 23-43-7 53

Why the drastic drop? Simply put - the Pacific Division is lacking a frontrunner. Dallas has been one of the hottest teams in hockey since the All-Star break, but no team has been able to build a commanding lead in division play, while clubs like St. Louis (101 points) and Vancouver (97) have all but wrapped up the Central and Northwest.

There's also a matter of lopsided parity in the division structure this season - at 85-86 points, Phoenix, L.A. or Dallas would all finish in last place in the murder's row of the Central Division, where four teams occupy the Top 6 seeds in the West.

What's this mean for the Stars? A lot of scoreboard watching. Dallas only has two division games left in their final eight (a home-and-away with San Jose), with four teams scrambling for two (possibly three) spots, a No. 3 seed being one of them.

For more on the Dallas Stars, check out SB Nation's NHL page and Defending Big D.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.