While the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, and Colorado Avalanche are in a battle over the top seed in the Central Division, the bottom four in the Central Division are still in a fight over a Wild Card slot and possibly the third seed.
Right now, the Minnesota Wild claim one of the two Wild Card positions (the first is filled by the Vancouver Canucks) and are fourth in the Central Division with a record of 26-19-5 worth 57 points. They trail Colorado by 8 points (having played 3 more games) and trail Chicago by 16. Since mid December, the Wild lost to 3 division rivals (Winnipeg, St. Louis, Colorado) but shut out the Nashville Predators 4-0. The Wild have faced the Blackhawks 3 times this season and won twice (5-3, 4-3) with one loss (5-2). They have 2 more contests together with the next one coming in a few days on January 23.
The Wild’s closest competition in the division are the Dallas Stars, 8 points behind in the standings with 3 fewer games played. The Stars’ record is 21-19-7 with 49 points in 47 games. In the last month, they have only faced the Predators and Blues as divisional opponents, winning 4-1 over the Predators and losing to the Blues 3-2 in overtime. The Stars have played the Blackhawks 4 times, losing three (5-2, 2-1 S/O, 6-2) and winning one (4-3). The teams will face off once more on March 25.
Tied in points with Dallas are the Nashville Predators with 49 points in 49 games and a record of 21-21-7. Over the past four weeks, the Predators faced the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild in the Central Division and lost both times (4-1, 4-0). The Predators and Blackhawks have only faced off twice this season with the Predators taking the first 7-2 in a game to forget for Blackhawks fans and losing the second 3-1. They have two more games with each other with the next one coming on March 23 before they close out the season together on April 12.
Last in the Central Division are the Winnipeg Jets who trail the Predators and Stars by 2 points. The Jets record is 21-23-5 with 47 points in 49 games. They have played Minnesota and Colorado since mid December winning both, 6-4 and 2-1 in overtime. In the first half of the season, the Jets and Blackhawks played each other three times with the Blackhawks taking all three games in regulation (5-1, 4-1, 6-3). They’ll play once more on January 26 in Chicago.
The Stars, Predators, and Jets seem to leapfrog each other weekly in the standings, but are just out of reach of the last Wild Card spot claimed ironically by the Wild. The Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes are also in the running for the two Wild Card playoff spots and could push the bottom four Central Division opponents out of the playoffs for good. With a little less than half a season to play, there’s still plenty of time to gain a lead or keep it close until the final game.
Which Central Division team do you think will make the Wild Card slots at the end of the season?