Although the Chicago Blackhawks have struggled a bit as of late, they are still in the top position in the Western Conference and aren’t giving their place in the Central Division a second thought, with a 25-4-3 record and 52 points. Other Central Division opponents are beginning to carve out a place for themselves for the playoffs and others still might be pushing to just make it in by the end of the season.
The Detroit Red Wings are finally starting to look like themselves again as regular playoff contenders. They have won 5 of their last 6 games and beat one of the best teams in the NHL in back to back contests. Last week started with a loss but culminated to some impressive wins. After 3 days of rest, the Red Wings hosted the Minnesota Wild but could never grab the lead. They cut the lead in half twice (2-1 in the second period, 4-2 in the third), but lost the game 4-2 in their only home stand of the week.
Two days later, they faced the Anaheim Ducks for two straight games in Anaheim. In the first game, the Ducks took the lead with a goal over halfway through the first period but the Red Wings responded with two of their own before the period was over. Justin Abdelkader scored his second of three on the night early in the second period and chased Ducks goaltender Viktor Fasth from the net. In the third period, Abdelkader completed his first career hat trick to give the Red Wings a 5-1 win.
The next contest was much closer, but led by the Red Wings who took a 2-0 lead in the first period. The Ducks scored a power play goal in the second, but were unable to tie it up in the third, sealing the Red Wings second win over them 2-1. The Wings’ schedule didn’t get any better as they faced the Phoenix Coyotes the very next night in Phoenix. Slow and steady won this race for the Red Wings. After the Coyotes took a 2-1 lead in the first period, the Wings tightened up defensively and let special teams do the rest, scoring a power play goal in each of the final two periods and winning the game 3-2.
Detroit is 17-11-5, sits in 5th place in the Western Conference and 2nd in the Central Division with 39 points.
The St. Louis Blues are still a hot and cold team who struggled again this past week. They finished a 4 game home stand against the Vancouver Canucks which turned out to be the only blemish. The first period played pretty evenly while the second period belonged to the Canucks who jumped out to a 3-0 lead. The third period belonged to the Blues who started a great comeback with 2 goals of their own, but couldn’t finish it off and lost the game 3-2.
Three days of rest later, they were in Edmonton to take on the Oilers. The Blues scored early in the first period to take the lead and added two more in the third to shut out the home team 3-0. They have to be getting angry about the comeback losses, because the next night in Calgary was almost the same story as against the Canucks. After climbing out of a two goal deficit to tie the game, the Blues gave up a goal in the third and couldn’t come back from that, not even with 38 shots on goal.
Two nights later, the Oilers came to St. Louis for a rematch and returned the favor by shutting out the home team 3-0. Again, the Blues came out firing but could not put one of 43 shots past Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
St. Louis has a record of 17-13-2 and has the 7th spot in the Western Conference and 3rd in the Central Division with 36 points.
Another hot and cold team in the Central Division is the Nashville Predators who finished off a four game losing streak against the Columbus Blue Jackets – now their biggest Central Division opponent. Columbus took the lead in the second period at home and held on to it for the rest of the game. But the Predators mounted what had the possibility of being a miraculous comeback. Down 4-1 late in the third period, they scored two goals 48 seconds apart with less than two minutes to go. Now 4-3, they had about 1:15 left on the clock to tie it up, but couldn’t pull it off, losing the game 4-3.
The Predators got back on track with a nice string of wins at home, starting off against the Calgary Flames. It began as a back and forth game with the Flames taking the lead and the Predators tying it up until the second period where Nashville surged ahead, winning the game 5-3. Next was a rematch against the Blue Jackets in which the Predators roared out with 4 goals in the first period and allowing one for the visitors. The Predators didn’t need much more and won the game with a final score of 5-2. Then the Edmonton Oilers visited the music city in a pretty even mach up where each team had 26 shots on goal. The Predators just managed to edge the Oilers for a 3-2 win.
Nashville is now 14-13-6, sits in 9th place in the Western Conference and 4th in the Central Division with 34 points.
The Columbus Blue Jackets broke their franchise record point streak with only one regulation loss the four games played last week. At home in their first game against the Nashville Predators, the Blue Jackets had an impressive 4-1 lead late in the third period and were able to hold on as the Predators charged back to make it a one goal win for the home team. Three days later, they finished the five game home stand against the Calgary Flames. After letting the struggling Flames team tie it up 1-1 early in the second period, the Blue Jackets took over, grabbing 3 goals in the second period and adding one more in the third for an emphatic 5-1 win.
Traveling to Nashville for a rematch against the Predators proved to be too much for their franchise record 12 game point streak, as they lost 5-2 in regulation for the first time since playing the Blackhawks in a 1-0 loss on February 24. They were quick to pick up the point streak once more against the Canucks in Vancouver three nights later in a game that went scoreless until the shootout. Sergei Bobrovsky made 34 saves in 65 minutes for the Blue Jackets plus 2 more in the shootout until Maxim Lapierre slipped one past him to give the Canucks the extra point.
Columbus is not too far out of a playoff spot with a record of 13-13-7, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference and 5th in the Central Division. With 33 points, just 2 points separate them from the 8th seed.
Based on the season so far, how many Central Division teams do you think will make it into the playoffs?