Going into the final week of the regular season the Central Division crown was up for grabs. Winnipeg, Nashville, and St. Louis all had their sights on the crown. Unfortunately only team could capture the title. on the final day of the regular season, the Nashville Predators reigned supreme. To go along with the divisional title being up for grabs, Dallas and Colorado were also looking to clinch the final two spots in the Western Conference. After the dusk cleared the Central Division will be sending five teams the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Let’s go inside the NHL Central Division Notebook to see how the Predators captured the division.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Predators Capture Division Title
Nashville Predators – As previously mentioned, the Nashville Predators were able to capture the Central Division title on the final day of the regular season. Nashville and Winnipeg were battling all season long for the top seed in the division. In order for Nashville to win the division, the Predators needed to pass the Jets in the standings, which is exactly what Nashville did. However, the Predators do not look like the dominate team they once were. The players Nashville brought in at the trade deadline have not fit in well, but the playoffs are where these players are needed most. Viktor Arvidsson set a new franchise record by scoring 34 goals in one season. Arvidsson will be a key player come playoff time along with the rest of the offense.
Winnipeg Jets – Both incarnations of the Winnipeg Jets have never won a division title and they were so close to doing so. All the Jets needed to do was just win games. Winnipeg held tiebreakers over both Nashville and St. Louis. Unfortunately, the Jets hit the skids at the wrong time. The good thing for the Jets was that they were able to get a big victory of the Coyotes on the final day of the season. With that victory the Jets secured home ice in the first round against St. Louis. The concern for the Jets is the vulnerability. Confidence is everything and the Jets do not have it right now. Even though the Jets won their last game, Winnipeg may not be the favorites heading into the playoffs. Winnipeg’s depth will be tested come the first round of the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues – What a ride the St. Louis Blues have been on. The Blues are the hottest team coming into the playoffs. After being dead last in the league at the start of January, St. Louis took advantage of a weak Western Conference. One of the keys to their success has been Jordan Binnington. As a matter of fact, Binnington closed the season out with the best goals against average. Another key was Ryan O’Reilly. Throughout the entire season, O’Reilly was a steady rock for the Blues. While the Blues were struggling, O’Reilly showed why he should be considered for the Hart Trophy. Even though O’Reilly may not have the points, without him, the Blues may not be in the playoffs. Now the Blues head into the playoffs with all the confidence in the world.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – While it may have taken to the final week of the regular season, the Dallas Stars are back in the playoffs. The Stars picked the right time to go on a winning streak. On the backs of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the Stars will be a tough out once the playoffs start. Not only do the Stars have a good offense, Dallas has a goalie who has been there before. As previously mentioned in past posts, Ben Bishop is the x-factor. The key will be for Bishop, can he stay healthy? Having Anton Khudobin as a backup is a good solid choice as well. Khudobin filled in nicely when Bishop was hurt. One thing that got the Stars going was the comments made about Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. While Jim Lites could have chose he words better, the Stars go as Benn and Seguin go.
Colorado Avalanche – Another team that clinched a playoff spot on the final days of the season was the Colorado Avalanche. Things got a little easier when Gabriel Landeskog returned to the line up. Not to mention the play of Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer has been rock solid for Colorado. The Avalanche traded for Grubauer back in the summer, and then signed him to a new contract. When Grubauer needed a night off, Semyon Varlamov carried Grubauer’s momentum. It will be interesting to see when Mikko Rantanen returns and how the time off, affects his game. The top line was key to Colorado’s success all season. Even though that line slowed down their pace of scoring, MacKinnon and Landeskog carried Colorado to the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks – In the end, the points gap was just too much for the Chicago Blackhawks to overcome. Needing to win every game down the stretch of the season, Chicago began to lose games. Therefore, instead of controlling their own destiny, Chicago needed help from the teams in front of them. Unfortunately, their season ended prior to the last week of the regular season. Patrick Kane has a great season, as he recorded an 110 point season. Kane’s teammate Alex DeBrincat had a monster season, recording 41 goals setting a career high. Not to mention captain Jonathan Toews had a nice bounce back season recording 81 points. Chicago has a lot of nice pieces as they take aim at the playoffs next season.
Minnesota Wild – For the first time in the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter era, the Minnesota Wild will not be going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For most of the season, Minnesota was fighting for a playoff spot. The Wild were one of the teams that could not take advantage of a weak Western Conference. As Brian Burke said on Hockey Night in Canada, “shame on the teams that finish 9th, 10th, and 11th for not grabbing the wild card positions by the throat.” When the games mattered the most, the Wild could not get the wins. Bruce Boudreau guaranteed the Wild would make the playoffs, instead the Wild are looking back on what could have been. It such a shame that when Matt Dumba went down to injury, the Wild could not recover. Dumba was having a good season to.