Behind Enemy Lines – Central Division

Apr 14, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) makes a save from a shot by Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) during the first period at the Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With the Chicago Blackhawks just sealing their top spot in the Western Conference and already clinching the Central Division Champion title, the race for second place in the division is still very much up for grabs. The Blackhawks have an amazing record of 33-5-4, worth 70 points with 6 games remaining. The closest division competitor trails by 20 points. The race for the last two playoff spots is turning out to be a life and death throw down between three divisional opponents.

St. Louis

The St. Louis Blues hold on to the 7th spot since making a strong playoff push in their last 10 games on the back of a resurging Brian Elliott but are 2-2-0 in their last 4. Elliott won his third consecutive shutout 2-0 in a tight defensive matchup against the Minnesota Wild who are also fighting to keep their place in the playoffs. The next night, rookie goaltender Jake Allen was in net as they faced the Columbus Blue Jackets who ended the Blues’ shutout streak and 6 game winning streak. Despite having 13 more shots on goal than the Jackets, the Blues lost 4-1.

Elliott put his personal shutout streak on the line against the Blackhawks in a Sunday matinee showdown. He lasted through the first period until Bryan Bickell shoved in a rebound, and Marian Hossa scored off the faceoff while shorthanded. The Blues could not get anything by Corey Crawford and were shut out themselves, 2-0. Newly acquired defenseman Jay Bouwmeester scored his first goal, and made it a big one, against the Vancouver Canucks. He tied up the game in the second period, 1-1, where it remained through the third period and overtime. The Blues took the 2-1 win in a shootout.

The Blues are in 7th place in the Western Conference with 50 points, just 3 points from the 9th seed and 3 points behind 4th seeded Los Angeles Kings. They have a record of 24-16-2 with 6 games remaining with hope to still gain home ice advantage for the first round.

Detroit

The Detroit Red Wings have fallen to the dreaded 9th spot in the Western Conference going 1-0-2 in their last 3 games. Special teams was the name of the game against the San Jose Sharks with 3 of the 4 goals scored in regulation coming on the man advantage or while shorthanded. The Sharks scored less than 3 minutes in the game on a 2 on 1 breakaway while killing off a penalty, but the Wings managed to tie it up with an even strength goal and go ahead with a power play goal. The Sharks responded with a power play goal of their own and sent the game to a shootout, where the Sharks took the extra point.

Then in a revenge-minded game, the Red Wings looked to redeem themselves for the 7-1 beating they took against the Blackhawks on Easter Sunday. Although they had the 2-1 lead with nearly 3 minutes remaining in the game, Jonathan Toews managed to tie it and send it to overtime, then the shootout. The Red Wings lost in the 5th round of a shootout as Brandon Saad beat Jimmy Howard and Crawford stopped Johan Franzen. After 2 straight shootout losses, Howard was ready for anything against the last ditched effort of the Nashville Predators to make it to the playoffs. Howard stopped everything he faced and got the 3-0 shutout victory.

The Red Wings are 20-16-7 with 47 points and hold a tentative 9th place in the Western Conference. They have 5 games remaining to claim a position in the playoffs or else stay on the outside looking in.

Columbus

The Columbus Blue Jackets continue to turn it up in their race to make it into the playoffs, just passing the Red Wings for the final seed. They are 4-0-0 in their last 4 games, getting points in every way with one regulation, one shootout, and two overtime victories. St. Louis scored not even 90 seconds into the first period, but Columbus responded with 4 unanswered goals to win the game 4-1. Sergei Bobrovsky once again saved the day for his team by stopping 39 of 41 shots from the Minnesota Wild, plus both rounds of a shootout, to give his team the 3-2 win.

In a back and forth game against the Colorado Avalanche, the Blue Jackets scored with just 87 seconds remaining in regulation to require extra hockey. Nick Foglino scored with less than 30 seconds in overtime, winning the game 4-3. Their next matchup was against a slightly fallen Anaheim Ducks team. After falling behind on a powerplay goal, Columbus managed to tie it up twice and send the game to overtime for the third game in a row. Just over halfway through the extra period, defenseman Fedor Tyutin scored the game-winner for the Jackets’ 4th consecutive victory.

The Blue Jackets just managed to grab the 8th spot of the Western Conference with a record of 21-16-7 and 49 points. They have 4 more games to scrape up every point they can get to defend their place from surrounding teams who have more games in hand. This one will go down to the wire (but really, aren’t they all?).

Nashville

The Nashville Predators have fallen off hard since before the trade deadline, losing 11 in a row – the last 8 without a point. With only 18 shots on goal, the Dallas Stars beat the Predators and 5-2, although Nashville ended the scoring 12 minutes into the 3rd period and could only hope to build on that throughout the game and in the ones following. With starting goalie Pekka Rinna back in net making 30 saves, the Predators still failed to get on the board and lost against Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings 3-0. Finally against the Vancouver Canucks the Predators managed to put 38 shots on goal, but Roberto Luongo made 36 saves while Rinne made 19 out of 24 for a 5-2 loss.

With the last loss, the Predators are out of the playoff picture for good at the 14th spot in the Western Conference with a record of 15-21-8. They have 4 games remaining before they all get to take a vacation and mentally move on to next season.

With the Blues, Red Wings, and Blue Jackets all jostling for a playoff spot, how many Central Division teams do you think will manage to squeeze in before the 27th?

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Topics: Chicago Blackhawks, NHL Central Division, NHL Playoffs

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