Central Intelligence: 20 Questions
The Dallas Stars have 20 games remaining in their season and the Central Division is right on their tail.
The Central Division smiled on the hapless Stars last night. On a night where Dallas was humiliated in the third period by the Winnipeg Jets, the Chicago Blackhawks lost to the Nashville Predators. The Stars' place in the division had been preserved, for now.
With 20 games remaining in their season, the intensity will take a step up as the Stars, Hawks, and Blues battle for first in the Central Division. Winning the division will be important; getting to play a wild card team instead of the Hawks/Blues would mean a lot for survival purposes.
Record: 26-30-4 56 points
Playoff Position: No
The Jets avoided the sweep at the hands of the Stars last night. It was a real punch in the stomach at home for Dallas.
The Andrew Ladd drama ended last night for Winnipeg, when about an hour before puck drop in Big D, their captain was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. It seemed like a decent return for the veteran winger, with the highlight of the package being Marko Dano.
This season was a disaster for the Jets, who were secretly not a horrible team. Leaky goaltending and streaky offense sunk the ship. This team was probably better than their record indicated, but maybe they will win the Auston Matthews sweepstakes (OMG NO).
Record: 27-24-10 64 points
Playoff Position: No
The wheels are off in St. Paul and there are no signs of improvement.
Once a division crown hopeful, the Wild have nearly clattered to Central basement. Mike Yeo is unemployed. It is a complete tire fire. The good news is, they crushed the Blackhawks in their stadium series game last weekend.
With 2 games in hand on the Avalanche and only 4 points out of a wildcard spot, all is not lost. If Minny could somehow steady themselves, the season is not over. We will see.
Record: 32-27-4 68 points
Playoff Position: Second Wildcard
Colorado has benefitted from the belly flop from Minnesota. The Avs are only playing .500 hockey right now and somehow holding serve on their playoff position.
Next Tuesday, the Avalanche will visit the Wild. This will be a meaningful game for both sides. It is a "4 point game" between two teams in a dead heat to make the playoffs. The Wild can close the gap to one game, or the Avs can put the Wild on life support. With 2 more games against Minnesota remaining on the schedule, you can bet these will feel like playoff games.
The Avs are in line to play the Central champ, and you can bet they hope that is Dallas.
Record: 30-21-11 71 points
Playoff Position: First Wildcard
The Predators are the only Central Division team on any sort of win streak, having won 3 contests in a row. They certainly did the Stars a huge favor by beating the Hawks on national television last night 3-1.
Nashville has essentially been left out of the top three (8 pts behind STL) in the division and is in little danger of being caught by the Wild (7 pts clear of MIN). Their spot in the postseason is almost guaranteed and is unlikely to improve. Oddly enough, the Preds may be sitting in the best place of all the Central Division contestants: they will get to play in the Pacific side of the bracket.
St. Louis Blues
Record: 35-19-9 79 points
Playoff Position: Third in the Central
St. Louis got hot but have lost two in a row. The blues made a sneaky little run back into the division race with Chicago and Dallas, and it is on like Donkey Kong for the stretch run.
The Blues haven't had good injury luck this year but have held their ground admirably. Literally name a player on the Blues roster and he is hurt or will be hurt. It has been that kind of year. They can't get healthy.
That being said, if St. Louis gets healthy at the right time, this could be the best team in the division. If they don't get healthy it could be another first round exit. The margin for error is so slim.
Record: 38-20-5 81 points
Playoff Position: Second in the Central
The Blackhawks got a lot better last night acquiring Andrew Ladd in a trade with the Jets. The key piece they gave up (Dano), was acquired in a trade last offseason for a player they weren't going to sign anyway (Saad). They traded house money for a guy that can help them win another Stanley Cup this year.
Of course, there are a few other shoes that will drop before deadline day and the Stars may have a few moves up their sleeve. The Stars over the last 2 years, have kind of had the Hawks' number. It would be an incredibly fun series to watch.
Dallas has faired well against the Central Division this year and that has been a primary cause of the team's success. With 11 home games and 9 away games remaining, the sprint to the finish line is here. The Stars must answer 20 more questions before the tournament. It should be a wild ride.