Wild Wild West: How Does Western Conference Differ From The East?


By Amanda DiPaolo

It is tough to gain ground in the Western Conference. Take for example the Phoenix Coyotes. Winners of 7 straight games, they are only one point ahead of San Jose for the Pacific Division lead. Lose two games, they’d be out of the top 8. Five teams are tied for sixth with 68 points.

What makes the Western Conference so tight? Who better to ask than a couple of players who previously played in the Eastern Conference but now call the Western Conference home.

Phoenix Coyotes Scottie Upshall says it is hard to pinpoint why the West is the way it is because he sees the style of play as fairly similar.

“The style of play has evened off over the years. You used to see the West play a tough checking system. The East was always run and gun. Now it has kind of evened off. I think our game has come a long way in that aspect. I don’t see a lot of difference,” Upshall explained.

But when asked specifically about playing in a Conference where every game is a must win, Upshall notes that unique nature of this year’s NHL.

“It’s tough. It’s very unique. You don’t see it too often in pro sports. It makes every game that much more important. When you are in a tight playoff race like this with 20 games, you have to be at your best every night you can’t take nights off. It’s going to make for an exciting finish,” he said.

Upshall started his career in the West for the Nashville Predators but got traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Peter Forsberg deal. He has since returned to the Western Conference to play for the Coyotes.

Upshall did note one major difference between the two conferences.
“Travel is a lot different. Out East, you get to sleep in your own bed a lot. Flights are only 45 minutes compared to a couple of hours.”

Lee Stempniak has also spent some time in the Eastern Conference having played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and is now with the Coyotes.

“The East tends to be more open, a little bit higher scoring. I don’t know if that’s proven by fact. I just know that right now the West is really tight. It feels like there is a difference, but I can’t find the words.”

“It seems like games are lower scoring that ties into it being tighter checking, but at the same time some of the top players in the League are in the Eastern Conference. Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Stamkos players of that caliber all play in the East. Overall, I think it’s evenly matched,” Stempniak said.

While Upshall and Stempniak have a hard time putting into words why the Western Conference differs fromt he East, Stempniak, like Upshall, is concerned with the close race.

“It stresses the importance of every game. We won six games in a row and didn’t gain any distance between us and the teams below us. We know every game going down the stretch is going to be really close and really important. It seems like on the last day of the year it is going to be 2 points that separate seedings or even if you are in the playoffs,” he said.

Stempniak says it is going to go down to game 82 to see who is in and who is out. With five teams tied with 68 points, some good teams are going to be disappointed come April.


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