With only six games left in the NHL regular season, the top three teams are pretty much set in the Central Division. Winnipeg holds the top spot with Nashville and St. Louis second and third. Dallas and Colorado hold the wild-card spots in the West. Chicago has a slim chance of making the playoffs, but they must win out. While Minnesota is closer to missing the playoffs than making them. Let’s go inside this week’s NHL Central Division to see how the top three teams are set.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Top Three Teams Set
Winnipeg Jets – The Winnipeg Jets are going back to the playoffs. After a statement win Saturday night against Nashville, the Jets are closing in on winning the division. This would be the first time in franchise history the Jets would have won a division title. Winnipeg is on a mission to finish what they started last season. It will not be easy, but the Jets have the tools to make a deep run in the playoffs. Kyle Connor is putting together one of the quietest 30 goal seasons on record. On Saturday night, Connor surpassed his career high in goals by recording a hat trick. He now has 32 goals on the season. Dustin Byfuglien is closer to returning as he is skating with his teammates, however, he is still wearing a no contact jersey.
Nashville Predators – The Predators need to start figuring some things out. Even though Nashville is four points behind the Jets for the division title, Nashville needs to be concerned with St. Louis. The point gap might be too much to overcome considering the Jets have a game in hand on Nashville. With only a two point gap separating the Blues and the Predators, Nashville needs to figure things out heading into the playoffs. Maybe it is best for the Predators to be an underdog instead of a favorite. They seem to play better that way. One thing that has been concerning is that the offense has dried up a bit. With some big tilts coming against divisional opponents and teams fighting for a playoff spot, this is the time to rise up.
St. Louis Blues – Who would have thought three months ago, the Blues would be in the position of getting home ice in the first round of the playoffs? Most figured they would sell off at the trade deadline and go after Jack Hughes in the draft. There is belief back in the locker room again thanks in part to Craig Berube and Jordan Binnington. Currently, the Blues sit two points behind Nashville in the standings. During the Blues three-game winning streak, Vladimir Tarasenko is been on a tear offensively. Not to mention the contributions from the Blues defense. The Blues defense is ranked near the top in the league in offensive points. One thing the Blues need to focus on his just picking up points. Ideally, the Blues would like home ice, but avoiding the wild card mess would be good too.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – First off, the Dallas Stars did not do themselves any favors this week. After defeating the Florida Panthers earlier in the week, the Stars failed to pick points against Colorado and Pittsburgh. Going forward the Stars need to pick up as many points as possible because nothing is a guarantee in this league. As a matter of fact, this is a make or break week for the Stars. Dallas travels through Western Canada playing two tops teams and two weeks teams. Best case scenario would be for the Stars to go 2-1-1. Ben Bishop needs to find his game against before he got injured. The Stars will rely on him heavily down the stretch. While Mats Zuccarello continues to skate on his own, he is not cleared yet to play. Dallas is hoping he can return soon.
Colorado Avalanche – Even though the Avalanche sit in the final wild card spot by twopoints, it will be tough for them to hold on with injuries to two key players. With Gabriel Landeskog already out of the lineup, Colorado will also be without Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen is listed as day to day with an undisclosed injury. This is another blow for Colorado’s top line. All the weight now falls on Nathan MacKinnon’s shoulders. Not to mention the fact, the Avalanche need to continue to get secondary scoring. Goaltending is not the issue for Colorado. Philipp Grubauer has been excellent. He is playing like he did last season around this time for the Capitals. Grubauer needs to sustain this level for Colorado to make the playoffs.
Minnesota Wild – It is crunch time for the Minnesota Wild. Over the past week, the Wild let valuable points slip away. Minnesota lost to Colorado and Carolina, while picking up a big win over Washington. For a moment, the Wild were back in the playoffs. However, that did not last long. The Wild have three big games this week. One of those games is against Arizona, a team they are battling with for the final wild-card spot. Not to mention they are facing off against Nashville in Nashville. Since coming over to Minnesota from Boston, Ryan Donato has fit into the lineup very well. Over the past five games, he has registered six points. If the Wild want to continue their playoff streak, the time is now to step up.
Chicago Blackhawks – Chicago’s slim playoff hopes were kept alive over the weekend, thanks in part to Duncan Keith. If Chicago lost both games to the Avalanche, they would be essentially out of the playoff race. As it stands now, Chicago is five points out with seven games to play. Chicago holds a game in hand over the teams they are chasing for the final playoff spot. If there is one team that could pull off this miracle it is the Blackhawks. Corey Crawford will play every game down the stretch for Chicago. Patrick Kane has eclipsed over 100 points again this season, while Jonathan Toews is back to his old self. Chicago must win out in order to make the playoffs. It will definitely be a tough task, but the Blackhawks have the team to do it.