Mar 1, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery (30) makes a save Columbus Blue Jackets center R.J. Umberger (18) during the third period at the United Center. The Blackhawks beat the Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime. The Blackhawks set an NHL record for scoring at least one point in 21 consecutive games to open a season. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Behind Enemy Lines - Central Division

 

The top team in the Central Division has started a mini losing streak while the last team is riding a 5-game winning streak. Oh, how things have changed. Although the Chicago Blackhawks lost their last two games, they haven’t fallen far and don’t have much to worry about when it comes to their lead in the Central Division. But, as has been the story for the last several weeks, the other 4 teams are shifting places so frequently it’s difficult to tell where they will end up. Here’s what happened in just the last few games, and see if you can decide what their final spot will be.

Columbus

The Columbus Blue Jackets have won their last 5 games and have at least a point in their last 7! That’s not the Blue Jackets that we have all come to know and… tolerate. On Thursday, Columbus hosted the Vancouver Canucks and did the Blackhawks a favor by winning 2-1 in overtime. Maybe not so much a favor as it just makes you grin. Admit it. Two days later, the Detroit Red Wings visited Columbus in the first of a back-to-back series between the division rivals. The Blue Jackets scored once in the first period and twice in the second with no retaliation from their opponents to win 3-0 in their first shutout of the season. The next night, the Red Wings came out harder, but the Blue Jackets took their second victory in two nights and 9 out of 10 points against Detroit this season with a 3-2 shootout win.

Columbus’ last loss came in Chicago on March 1st which ended in overtime. Their last regulation loss came in Chicago on February 24th in a shutout. They face the Canucks one more time before they take on the Blackhawks for their last matchup of the season on Thursday. The Blue Jackets no longer occupy the last place in the Western Conference by working their way up to a 10-12-4 record to take 13th in the West and 5th in the Central Division – but it’s a closer 5th than before.

Detroit

Before their miniseries with the Blue Jackets, the Red Wings shut out the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 by limiting an already struggling offense and sealing the win with three goals. After a night off came the first of two games with Columbus. This time the tables were turned when the Red Wings failed to score on 30 shots or on 3 power play opportunities and were shut out 3-0 in Columbus. The following night was the Red Wings’ last chance to redeem themselves from their struggles with the last team in the Central Division and do it in front of their home crowd. The Blue Jackets scored first and never let the Red Wings take a lead all the way into the shootout where Wings allowed the Jackets to collect their fifth consecutive victory in a 3-2 loss. The Red Wings now have a 12-9-5 record, are in 4th place in the Western Conference and 2nd in the Central Division.

St. Louis

Trailing the Red Wings are the St. Louis Blues who are struggling to gain the stability of last year. Offense and defense seem to come and go on a weekly basis. This week, offense came and defense had its foot out the door as they played 3 more games on their road trip.  On Thursday, the Blues traveled to Phoenix to take on Coyotes and scored 3 goals in the second period alone. In fun news for Blackhawks fans, the Blues piled 6 pucks behind struggling Phoenix goalie Mike Smith before the night was over in a 6-3 win for the visiting team. Two nights later, Vladimir Sobotka brought the Blues back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period by getting a hat trick and sending it to overtime. Patrik Berglund won the game less than two minutes in for the Blues’ second win. Then in Anaheim, the Blues faced off against the second best team in the NHL and gained a 2-1 lead but allowed a shorthanded goal and an empty-netter as the Ducks climbed up and over to hand the Blues a 4-2 loss. St. Louis has a 13-10-2 record which is good for 8th in the Western Conference and 3rd in the Central Division.

Nashville

The Nashville Predators’ two games were on consecutive nights over the weekend and they spent all of their firepower on Friday and left very little for Saturday. The team had been lacking in offense and needed to score at least 4 goals to snag their previous two wins. The Predators had a 3 day rest before hosting the Edmonton Oilers who were making their rounds in the Central Division last week. Ironically, in a game where they would only need one goal to win, the Predators scored 6 with goaltender Pekka Rinne earning his league-leading 4th shutout of the season.

The following night, Nashville saw the return of their former defenseman Ryan Suter who left for the Minnesota Wild and a large paycheck over the summer. Nashville fans booed Suter constantly and loudly whenever he was on the ice. He was also quite visible that game, assisting on the first goal and committing the penalty that led to the Predators’ power play goal to tie it up. But Suter would have the last laugh in this one as his team won 2-1 in a shootout. Nashville takes the 4th spot in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference with a 10-9-6 record.

 

So, it turns out that the Blackhawks are fallible and the Blue Jackets can put together a respectable winning streak. They won’t be trading places anytime soon, but it’s an interesting turn of events and sets up nicely the final meeting between the two teams on Thursday.

Do you think Columbus can beat Vancouver on Tuesday and finally win over Chicago on Thursday?

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