With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Central Division is headed down the home stretch and we have Madhouse Enforcer's latest edition of our Power Rankings to set the scene.
1. St. Louis Blues (Last Week’s Rank: 1)
The Blues shut out the playoff-bound Calgary Flames to start out last week, but then proceeded to lose three games in a row, falling to the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, and Detroit Red Wings. That last loss to the Red Wings is one worth remembering if the Central Division race comes down to a single standings point, because the game-winning goal was scored by Justin Abdelkader, who was using a broken stick and whose goal should not have counted.
At any rate, the Blues have one game remaining on their six-game road trip as they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, and then they get a nice break before opening a homestand against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night in what will be their final non-conference game of the season.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week’s Rank: 2)
The Blackhawks were flying high going into their Saturday showdown with the Dallas Stars, winning six of seven games and playing some of their best defensive hockey of the season. All of that came crashing down in the contest however as they dropped a 4-0 decision, surrendering two power play goals and failing to get a single shot past Kari Lehtonen in the process.
A win in that game would have put the Blackhawks just three points behind the Blues with two games in hand and two games remaining against the division leaders, but the loss doesn’t really change the fact that Chicago still controls its own destiny when it comes to a division title. A couple of winnable games dot the schedule this week to help, with a road trip through Raleigh and Philadelphia being followed up by a home skate against the Blue Jackets.
3. Minnesota Wild (Last Week’s Rank: 4)
There seems to always be a team that everyone wants to avoid when the playoffs begin, and the Wild may well be that team this season. They are red hot right now behind the excellent goaltending of Devan Dubnyk, and even though they did drop a 3-2 decision to the Washington Capitals on Thursday, they also picked up some key wins against the Nashville Predators and the Blues to further solidify their playoff standing.
This week provides a couple of good opportunities for Minnesota to make a statement, starting with a quick two game road trip through Toronto and Long Island to play the Maple Leafs and Islanders. A Friday game against the Calgary Flames will pose a tough test, and a Saturday evening showdown with the Los Angeles Kings could give Minnesota a chance to put a huge dagger in the Kings’ hopes of a playoff berth.
4. Nashville Predators (Last Week’s Rank: 3)
The Predators finished off a calm week schedule-wise with an easy 3-0 victory over the lowly Buffalo Sabres (who seem to be more interested in winning the services of Connor McDavid in the NHL Entry Draft than actually fielding a competitive hockey team), but a loss midweek to the Wild put a damper on the proceedings.
The Predators are still in second place in the Central, but they’ll be sorely tested this week as they take on four teams in the playoff hunt. Home games against the Montreal Canadiens (currently the top seed in the Atlantic Division) and the Calgary Flames will sandwich road tilts against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals.
5. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week’s Rank: 6)
One of the coolest things about the NHL season is that there are always going to be assumptions being challenged and destroyed. One such assumption was that the Kings were going to cruise into the playoffs and that the Jets were going to fall on hard times as they dealt with a slew of defensive injuries. That narrative has not taken place, and in fact the Jets seem to be getting better and better, winning four straight games and taking out two playoffs teams last week in wins over the Blues and the Capitals.
The Jets’ schedule doesn’t get much easier this week, with a Monday game against the Edmonton Oilers serving as an appetizer for a tough three game stretch where they have to visit the Vancouver Canucks and then host the Canadiens and Blackhawks to finish out the slate.
6. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week’s Rank: 5)
The Avalanche still have some winnable games on the docket, but they’re simply running out of time as they try to make a late push toward the postseason. They’re still being outshot regularly, which is worrying, but they’ve been getting some stellar goaltending out of Semyon Varlamov, who hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a start since February 27 against the Stars.
Down eight points to the Jets for the second wild card spot with only 11 games left to play, Colorado will pretty much have to run the table to have a chance, and they do have some favorable matchups this week. They do have to travel to Calgary and Vancouver on Monday and Thursday, but a Wednesday game against the Oilers and a Saturday game against the Sabres provide two extremely winnable contests.
7. Dallas Stars (Last Week’s Rank: 7)
The Stars are 7-3-0 in the month of March, but like the Avalanche they are running out of time as they try to make a late push toward the playoffs. Lehtonen has been on fire for the team in recent weeks, but even with his improved play and an offense that is still one of the league’s best, the Stars are going to need a miracle in order to reach the postseason.