With the Chicago Blackhawks at their usual spot waaaay atop the Central Division (and the Western Conference, and the League), the other four spots are really the only ones that are up for grabs. Second place seems the best any of them can hope for, seeing as the Blackhawks have a 17 point lead on the current second place slot. Here’s how the race for second place is going in the Central Division.
The St. Louis Blues are starting to pick up steam again after a couple of worrisome weeks with both offense and goaltending issues. They started a 6 game home stand last week against the San Jose Sharks in which the home team grabbed the lead in the first period and an empty netter at the end to seal a 4-2 win. Two nights later, the Phoenix Coyotes came for a visit and left with no goals and no points as rookie goalie Jake Allen recorded his first NHL shutout with a 3-0 win for the Blues. Then in a faceoff against the mighty Anaheim Ducks, the Blues tied up the game to 1 in the second period on a power play goal to end the scoring in regulation. St. Louis never gave the visiting team a chance to catch their breath in overtime as Chris Stewart, the man on fire for the Blues, scored just 45 seconds in to take the extra point.
The Blues have a 16-10-2 record good for 2nd place in the Central Division and 5th in the Western Conference.
The Detroit Red Wings did a quick 3 game tour of the Northwest Division in 6 days starting in Calgary. The game was tied 2-2 going into the third when the Red Wings gave up 3 goals in under 4.5 minutes to lose the game 5-2. Then in Edmonton, the visiting team dug themselves out of a two goal hole in the third period to tie it up and send the game to overtime where Pavel Datsyuk scored with 1:20 left in overtime to win it for the Wings. Next, they faced the Vancouver Canucks where the always-hated Alexandre Burrows scored the first and last goals of the game, but it was all the ones in between that counted the most. After giving up a goal 6 seconds into the game, the Red Wings scored 5 goals that were only answered by Burrows’ third period goal leading to a 5-2 victory for the visitors.
The Red Wings are now14-10-5 and are just behind the Blues in 3rd in the Central Division and 6th in the West.
The Nashville Predators began a 5 game road trip against the Dallas Stars with goaltender Pekka Rinne‘s 5th shutout of the season in a 4-0 victory. But that was not a sign of good things to come. Rinne allowed 4 goals on 12 shots against the Vancouver Canucks before he was pulled in the second period. Backup Chris Mason allowed 3 more goals for the Predators to lose 7-4. Rinne’s luck didn’t get much better the next night in Calgary as he allowed 2 goals in the first two shots he faced which sealed his fate for the night along with his team’s. Mason again let in 3 goals and an empty net goal at the end sealed a 6-3 loss. The Predators didn’t get much time off before they had to take on the speedy Edmonton Oilers and found themselves down 3-1 late in the third. After pulling Pekka Rinne (not due to poor goaltending or defense this time), the visiting team managed to score with 6 seconds left. But that wasn’t enough to force overtime, and the Predators lost 3-2. Their road trip-gone-awry ends on Tuesday in Columbus against an emerging Central Division foe.
The Predators have an 11-12-6 record and out of a playoff spot at 4th in the Central Division and 12th in the West.
The Columbus Blue Jackets ended their 5 game winning streak with 2 losses. Shootout losses. And then a shootout win. Fresh off of their back to back wins over the Red Wings, Columbus gave the struggling Canucks a run for their money, taking the lead in the second but surrendering a goal before the period was over. The Jackets lost 2-1 in the shootout then prepared for their final meeting with the Blackhawks as Central Division opponents. The Blackhawks took the lead first, but the Blue Jackets were having none of that and scored less than a minute later. Tied at 1 at the end of 65 minutes, the game headed to another shootout where Ryan Johansen did a cute little imitation of Patrick Kane‘s slow-mo stick skills move at which we and Corey Crawford all chuckled. Kane then pulled off the original and buried it. Crawford did the rest as the Jackets lost another shootout 2-1. Against the Coyotes two nights later, both Sergei Bobrovsky and Mike Smith had shutouts with Bobrovsky’s 39 saves being the most impressive compared to Smith’s 23 saves. The Blue Jackets goaltender also stopped all three shots in the shootout while the Coyotes goalie gave up two, and Columbus won it 1-0.
The Blue Jackets have the exact same record as the Predators with an 11-12-6 record but trail them in the 5th place in the Central Division and 13th in the Western Conference.
The Blackhawks don’t currently have any real competition for the top spot in the Central Division this season; it’s more of a question of the President’s Trophy at this point. Beyond that, there seems to be a competition going for 2nd place between the Blues and Red Wings and the 4th spot between the Predators and Blue Jackets.
Since the top spot is pretty much spoken for, who do you think will end up second in the Central Division?