For the longest time, it has appeared to be a certainty that the Colorado Avalanche would be facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin on Wednesday. After Thursday night’s 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks however, Colorado found itself in a surprising position: atop the standings in the Central.
That status comes courtesy of both their win over Vancouver and a St. Louis Blues loss to the Minnesota Wild. The defeat was the fourth in a row for the Blues, and it put them in a very uncomfortable position. They will be heading down to Dallas to take on the Stars Friday, and if they are unable to win the game against a team that is in need of a win to potentially lock down a wild card spot, then the Avalanche will have a chance to clinch the Central with a win over the San Jose Sharks.
It is truly a startling turn of events in a division that the Blues had all but sewn up a few weeks ago. In the interim, the team has hit its roughest patch of the season, and with a couple of recent losses to the Blackhawks being included in those struggles, the Blues are picking the wrong time of the season to do some serious back-sliding.
The loss by the Blues and the win by the Avalanche means that the Blackhawks will open the postseason on the road in either St. Louis or Denver next week. Even if Chicago ties one of those two teams at 111 points, they would lose the first tiebreaker to both clubs, which is regulation and overtime wins. The scenario likely means that the Hawks will rest a lot of their starters over the next two games, with Saturday’s game against Nashville in particular serving as a good time to give Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, among others, a break.
As for the wild card hunt in the West, the Stars got a big boost to their chances for a playoff spot on Thursday when the Phoenix Coyotes dropped a 2-0 decision to the Nashville Predators. The loss leaves Phoenix two points behind the Stars, and if Dallas wins their game Friday against the Blues, then they clinch the final wild card spot and leave Phoenix out of the playoffs for a second consecutive season.