With the Stanley Cup Playoffs looming soon, as teams on average have 15 games remaining in the schedule, the divisions are looking to shape up which top three teams will represent their respective Division. Some Divisions have more of a battle as they have two or three teams outside the top three waiting in the wings for one of those teams to stumble and have a spot open up. The Division that has the most competition for those top three spots in the Central as there will only be two spots available as the best team in hockey currently, Colorado Avalanche, have guaranteed their playoff spot with a league-leading 102 points. Only two spots will be available for five teams presently looking to secure one of the limited spots. These next 15 games will be a battle for each team as one slip-up and one losing streak could mean the end of a playoff run before it even happens.
Current Central Division Standings
The current standings of the Central are as follows; the Minnesota Wild sit in second with 87 points through 66 games, and the St. Louis Blue hold the third and final spot as they have 84 points through 67 games. The Nashville Predators sit on the outside in the bubble with 82 points through 68, Dallas Stars with 79 points through 66, and Winnipeg Jets with 76 points through 69. It’s safe to say that the Winnipeg Jets have the most complex and uphill battle of all the bubble teams as they have the least amount of points through the most games played. This leaves them needing several scenarios to happen for them to remotely have a chance at making a playoff push.
Minnesota Looks to Maintain Second Seed
The Minnesota Wild seem to be in the most control of their destiny sitting in second in the Division and holding a number of games in hand against multiple opponents, looking to dethrone them. With 15 points separating them and Colorado for the number spot, the Wild have their eyes set on securing the second seed and home-ice advantage as they will face whichever team comes in third in the Division. At the deadline, the Wild went all in to acquire a handful of players, including veteran Marc-Andre Fleury to sure up their goaltending. It seems like the Wild will be holding on to the second spot leaving the battle for third to be the most important among the remaining three teams.
Can St. Louis Hold on to Third Seed?
Third place in the Central has been a back and forth battle between the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues as the two have flipped flopped between being in the top three and being in the top wild-card spot. Currently, the Blues hold the third spot as they have two points on Nashville and a game in hand that is coming in handy. Unfortunately for the Blues, over their last 15 games, they will face eight current playoff teams that include division rivals Minnesota twice, Nashville and Colorado once, and Eastern conference powerhouse Boston twice. These are five games that St. Louis could quickly lose in the coming weeks, undoubtedly shaking up the current standings and leaving an opening for Nashville to pounce.
Nashville Looks to Jump Back into the Top Three
Being the first team on the outside is never easy but knowing you at least have a wild card spot makes the situation easier unless that wild card spot means you will face Colorado in the first round. The Predators have a lot to play for over their final 14 games as a division spot means most likely means a meeting with Minnesota, who they are 2-0 against on the season with two matchups still to be played. The Predators have no easy schedule outside the two matchups with Minnesota; they face Calgary twice, have division games against St. Louis and Colorado, and take on playoff teams in the Eastern Conference with matchups against Florida, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. Nashville’s most brutal stretch will come between April 17th and April 28th. They are set to face teams in the following order St. Louis, Calgary, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Calgary, and finishing up against Colorado on the road. This six-game stretch will determine for Nashville whether they are worthy enough to secure the third spot in the Central, as this is no easy task.
Dallas Should Focus on Wild Card Spot
The final team in the hunt for the Central is the Dallas Stars, as they sit three points behind Nashville but have two games in hand and five points behind St. Louis with one game in hand. At the point for the Stars, their focus should be on the Wild Card spot, which is very doable as they are only one point behind Vegas for the second spot but have a commanding four games in hand. This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs may feature five teams from the Central as the Stars, Predators, and Blues look to make up the wild card spots. Things look good for Dallas as 10 of their last 16 games are against non-playoff teams. Only time will tell on how these final games will turn out and which teams will lock up the Central’s final two spots but don’t be surprised if, in the end, five teams from the Central are in the playoff as this is one deep Division.