This will be the third year in the current Stanley Cup playoffs format. A lot of ink has gone into describing this system. It is early, but it would be hard to call the changes a failure. Maybe not ideal, but certainly not a failure.
Within each conference, there are division brackets. Basically a mini four-team tournament to decide who the division's representative will be in the conference final. In years past the only division "championship" a team could win was the regular season points title.
Now, the winner of your division's quarter of the bracket and that entry to the conference finals is the "division winner". I can see the questions flooding in now, "What if Nashville is the Pacific Division's representative in the Western Conference Finals?" The answer to that is, they would be considered the Pacific Division champion. Weird, huh?
While the seeding is unknown, Dallas or St. Louis could win the Central's first seed on Saturday, the combatants are known. The Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, and Minnesota Wild will do battle this year in the Central Division postseason. Again, ignoring the fact that the Predators for all practical purposes are a "Pacific team" much the same way the Jets were last year and the Stars the year before.
So, what are some important numbers that will decide the first two rounds in the Central Division playoffs bracket?
The difference in the Blackhawks save percentage between Corey Crawford and Scott Darling. How important is this number? It looks tiny. Has too much hooplah been made about Crawford's absence? Crawford's 0.926 save percentage against Darling's 0.915 comes out to one less goal per 100 shots against (essentially). It isn't like Darling hasn't played (24 starts). The Hawk's fans are hoping that if they have to roll with Darling, that 0.915 holds up.
The Stars penalty kill has been a lot of things this year. But now, the Stars can say they are the 10th best penalty kill in the NHL. Considering the team was in the mid-20's on the kill about a week ago (feels like it), to jump so far so fast has been a testament to the unit's dominance the last few weeks. As an aside, the Stars have also improved in total goals against. They are now 20th in goals against. I know, I know. It's still 20th. But this number was 27th a month and a half ago.
The St. Louis Blues' PDO since March 1, 2016. PDO is your team's save percentage plus your team's shooting percentage. In a perfectly average world, every team's PDO would be 100. The Blues have been getting excellent goaltending (0.921) and have been scoring on 11.1 percent of the shots they attempt. Some call that a really good team, some call it unsustainable. It just depends on how to read it.
If the Minnesota Wild had played this season last season, their 87 points would have put them in position to draft 8th, possibly even 7th overall. They would have been in last place in the Central, trailing Colorado by two points in the Division basement.
The Blackhawks' record against the Blues and Stars. While the Stars handled the Blackhawks this year (winning four of five), the Hawks have had success against the Blues going 2-0-3. Those overtime losses are essentially a coin flip on how you value them, because they don't play 3-on-3 after April 10th.
The Minnesota Wild's Corsi-For percentage since March 1st. In other words, they have taken on water in the shots department since March began, yet they have been able to secure a playoff spot. The problem for Minnesota is that either of their first round opponents in the Central Division bracket (Dallas or St. Louis) are some of the premier possession teams in the league. Dallas has been all year, and St. Louis is doing it now.
The Blues and Stars combined record in each team's last 10 games. It essentially equates to a series being decided in five games. Basically, they are both hot.
2, 3, and 4
Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, and Vladimir Tarasenko on the NHL leading goal scorer's list. This corner of the bracket featuring Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, and Minnesota has three of the four best goal scorers in the league in it. The highest goal scoring player in Minnesota is Zach Parise, 51st overall in the NHL.
There is still a lot to play for on Saturday for St. Louis and Dallas on Saturday. Dallas is in pole-position and will be hoping to take care of business against the Predators.