The NHL's Pacific is set for frantic finale to the play-offs

There are four teams in the Pacific division that have a chance of post-season play in the NHL, but not all four, and as few as one, will reach the play-offs.

Mike Richards, left, has helped the Los Angeles Kings stay contenders in the NHL's Pacific Division.
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The final week of the regular season promises a furious finish in the NHL's Pacific Division.

How tight is the play-off race in the Pacific (and, by extension, in the Western Conference)?

The division's top four teams - the Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks - have been flip-flopping for weeks, taking turns leading the division and then dropping out of a play-off spot altogether.

At least one Pacific team will make the post-season, probably two, maybe three ... but not four.

Or look at it this way: at least one Pacific team will miss the post-season, probably two, maybe three ... but not four.

But which make it and which miss out probably will not be decided until the final day of the season, and perhaps not until the very last game: the Kings against the Sharks on Saturday.

The wild race to the finish line represents a different reality for each team.

For the Sharks, who have made it to the Western Conference final the past two seasons, the possibility of missing the play-offs is unacceptable.

San Jose, with their stable of star players in their prime, are supposed to be challenging for the Stanley Cup rather than scrapping for a back door into the post-season.

They control their own fate. If they finish strong, they will qualify for the play-offs and probably finish first in the Pacific. But if the Sharks slip up, the team could look very different next year.

The Kings also entered the season with high expectations.

Young and talented, they traded for Mike Richards last summer to give them a mighty one-two punch down the middle with Anze Kopitar.

Jonathan Quick, the Kings, goalie, has been the team MVP this season. But that is not necessarily good news, because it is partly due to the fact the Kings have barely averaged two goals per game - they simply cannot score.

That has to change, fast, if they want to make the play-offs - and make any noise once they get there.

In Phoenix, the story remains the same: for the third successive year, the Coyotes appear determined to make the play-offs against all odds - and then answer questions about whether this is their final season in the desert.

The Stars might be the NHL's most unexpectedly competitive team this season. Despite losing Brad Richards to the New York Rangers via free agency last summer, Dallas have relied on Kari Lehtonen's netminding and a top-to-bottom team effort to remain in the play-off hunt to the end.