By Tim Pigulski
With just 12 games remaining in the regular season, the playoff picture is becoming clear for the Thunderbirds.
Seattle currently sits in fourth place in the Western Conference, comfortably nestled in between third-place Victoria and fifth-place Spokane.
With 88 points, Victoria is nine points ahead of Seattle and playing its best hockey of the season. In their past 10 games, the Royals are 9-0-1-0 and have earned points in 14 consecutive contests. Even though Seattle has two games in hand on its B.C. Division foe, the likelihood that the Thunderbirds can catch Victoria is a reach at this point.
In the Thunderbirds' rearview mirror is the Spokane Chiefs, a team that they've utterly dominated this season en route to a 7-0-0-0 record in head-to-head matchups. In those contests, the Thunderbirds have outscored their I-90 rival 29-9, including two straight 4-0 shutouts. Spokane currently sits six points behind the Thunderbirds with both teams having played 60 games.
If the playoffs were to begin today, Victoria would host the Vancouver Giants, and Seattle would have home-ice advantage in the first round against Spokane.
With the success the Thunderbirds have had against the Chiefs this season, they may prefer their current first-round matchup. If the Thunderbirds were to make an improbable jump past Victoria in the standings, they'd host Vancouver or Everett, which sits four points behind the Giants with three games in hand.
The Thunderbirds' record against Vancouver is 2-1-0-0 with one game remaining, and they are 5-1-1-0 against Everett with three matchups remaining in the regular season. However, the Thunderbirds haven't dominated either team as consistently as they have Spokane, especially lately.
Last season saw the Chiefs enter the playoffs as the Western Conference's fourth seed, where they played the Tri-City Americans and beat them handily, winning the best-of-seven series 4-1.
The Thunderbirds' 79 points are already the most they've had since the 2007-08 season, when they had 91 points at the end of the year. With 12 games remaining, Seattle could certainly eclipse that total and reach its highest point total since 2002-03, when the Thunderbirds finished with 94 points. Seattle's single-season record is 107 points, set during the 1989-90 season.
Follow Tim Pigulski on Twitter @tpigulski.