The Chicago Blackhawks enter the All-Star break in a tie for second place with the St. Louis Blues in the Central Division, and as players gather in Columbus for the All-Star Game, a lot of the talk has been on the dogfight that’s coming up as teams battle for the top spot.
Even though the Blackhawks didn’t win the Central last year (that honor went to the Colorado Avalanche), a lot of players and teams still look at them as the club to beat.
“Those are really tough games, especially against Chicago,” Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg said of the Central race. “It’s been really hard-fought, and it’s like a one-goal game every time we play against them. Playing against really good players on every shift is awesome. It really gets you going.”
The Predators are a team that has taken the NHL by surprise. Under new head coach Peter Laviolette, the team has adopted a more offensive approach to the game while still employing the defensive discipline that they had under former bench boss Barry Trotz.
“It’s been huge for us,” Forsberg said. “To have the same kind of defense with Pekka (Rinne) and Shea (Weber), and then to have guys like us on offense means that we can contribute more and play better as a team.”
Another team that is turning heads in the Central are the Winnipeg Jets. Pegged by many to finish in last place in the division, the team has overcome an avalanche of injuries to remain competitive in the division, and their stellar defense has been a big part of the reason why.
“I think we’ve definitely turned a corner up there,” Jets defenseman (and former Chicago Blackhawk) Dustin Byfuglien said. “It hasn’t been easy for us getting put in the division we’re in. Our game has come a long ways, and our locker room is better. It’s a good thing to be a part of.”
The Jets especially have been a thorn in the side of the Blackhawks, beating them all three times that the two teams have played at the United Center this season. Despite the wins though, Byfuglien won’t be giving his teammates too much grief.
“I don’t think I will,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe I will, but we’ll see. Any time you can beat a team a couple of times is good. They’re really good. Even if we lose though, we can still go back and learn from it.”
Even with the surprising Jets and Predators leading the charge to keep the Blackhawks from ascending back to the throne, players in the division still feel that Chicago is the team to beat at the end of the season.
“Everyone knows how good they are,” Predators captain Shea Weber said. “They know what to expect every night. You look at every team, and there’s no easy games (in the division). It’s a tough division. They’re all really good.