With the NHL heading into the final week of the regular season, who would have thought the divisional title would still be wide open? Either Winnipeg or Nashville were locks to win the division. But with both teams inconsistent play, they have left the door wide open. The team taking advantage of this is the St. Louis Blues. The Blues only trail the Predators and Jets by two points in the standings. While those three battle for the division title, Dallas and Colorado are looking to keep their stronghold on the wild card positions. Let’s go inside this week NHL Central Division Notebook to see how the division is so wide open.
NHL Central Division Notebook: 1st Place is Wide Open
Winnipeg Jets – Compared to last year, the Winnipeg Jets are a more vulnerable team this year. The Jets lead in the Central Division is dwindled down to two points. In addition, the Predators are tied with points with the Jets for first place, but Winnipeg owns the tiebreaker. Winnipeg closed out the month of March with three straight losses. The Jets had a chance to clinch the division last week, but now it may wait until the last game of the season. So many inconsistencies this season have hurt the Jets this season. Not to mention the injuries to members of their defense corps. Even though Dustin Byfuglien returned to the lineup, Josh Morrissey still remains out of the lineup. They need Morrissey to return quickly. Winnipeg needs to get better goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck if there is any hope of making another deep run in the playoffs.
Nashville Predators – Another team that is vulnerable this season is the Nashville Predators. While the Predators are tied in the standings with Winnipeg, they do not hold the tiebreaker. So in order for the Predators to win the division they need more points than the Jets. Nashville was one of the pegged from the start of the season to make a deep run in the playoffs. However, their play has not been indicative of that. As a matter of fact, the Predators have been struggling offensively. Kyle Turris who was brought in as part of the Matt Duchene trade, has not exactly fit in with the Predators. His numbers are down from his years in Ottawa. In addition, players like Wayne Simmonds and Brian Boyle are none factors. Both will need to be factors come playoff time.
St. Louis Blues – One of the more remarkable stories of the season. On January 3rd, the St. Louis Blues were dead last in the Western Conference. Now the Blues are within two points of the divisional crown. Nobody expected this to happen considering how poorly the Blues were playing. St. Louis is back in the playoffs after the train fell off the rails last season. It is not out of the question the Blues finish in first place to close out this season. It is crazy to think what a little confidence can do for a team. Craig Berube will definitely get a nomination for the Jack Adams Award. While Jordan Binnington is making a good case for the Calder Trophy. St. Louis has won three of the past four games as Vladimir Tarasenko hit the 30 goal mark again.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – What a great Western Canada road trip the Dallas Stars had. Out of a possible eight points, the Stars picked up seven. If the Stars were able to pick up a win against Vancouver, Dallas would have clinched a playoff spot. The Stars just need one point to clinch a playoff spot. While everyone disagreed with the comments made by CEO Jim Lites towards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, it seemed too light a fire under those two. Seguin and Benn are playing some great hockey. Benn has put the Stars on his back guiding them back to the playoffs. Dallas has all but secured the first wild card spot in the Western Conference. As previously mentioned if the Stars get into the playoffs, the x-factor will Ben Bishop. Bishop knows what it takes to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Colorado Avalanche – The Colorado Avalanche are one of two Central Division teams battling for the final wild card spot. As it stands right now, the Avalanche hold the final wild card spot. Colorado has a one point lead over Arizona and a four point lead over Minnesota. Last week, the Avalanche received some good news as captain Gabriel Landeskog returned to the lineup. Considering how much of a factor he was this lineup playing with Nathan MacKinnon, the timing could not have been better. As Mikko Rantanen remains out of the lineup, the duo of MacKinnon and Landeskog continue to lead the Avalanche. Not to mention the play of Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer has taken the torch and he is running with it. Colorado will ride Grubauer until they clinch a playoff spot.
Minnesota Wild – Time is running out on the Minnesota Wild and their playoff hopes. Sitting four points out of the final wild card spot with three games to play, it will be awfully tough to get in. Considering how well Colorado and Arizona are playing. Minnesota lost a crucial game to Arizona on Sunday night, which hurt their chances even more. Minnesota is three points back of Arizona. If the Wild were able to win that, they would have past Arizona in the standings. In order to make the playoffs Minnesota will need to win out and get help from the teams in front of them. It will be interesting to see how the respond after these tough losses. If the Wild miss the playoffs, there could be changes on the way.
Chicago Blackhawks – The storybook ending has finally come to an end for the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago took their fans on a magical run to close out the season, but the points gap was just too much to overcome in the standings. Considering how things started for the Blackhawks, the finish to the season can be deemed as a success. Granted it is never good to finish middle of the pack in the NHL, Chicago has a lot of good pieces going forward. Through all the disappointment of missing the playoffs, there were some bright spots. One of them was the play of Alex DeBrincat. DeBrincat is one of the youngest Blackhawks to hit the 40 goal mark. To go along with DeBrincat scoring 40 goals, Patrick Kane hit the same mark as well to go along with his 100 point season. The future is bright for Chicago.