Playoff Watch: Hawks, Avalanche Gain Ground as Central Race Tightens

Hawks win, Avs pick up point vs. Penguins as Central race tightens

With Sunday’s batch of games, the NHL is now officially a week away from the conclusion of the regular season, and despite the impending conclusion of the campaign, there are still a slew of questions that have to be answered in all sorts of playoff races.

In the East, it appears that the Detroit Red Wings’ run of consecutive playoff appearances will continue, but it has come partially at the expense of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have gone through some turbulent times as they have fallen out of a playoff spot. The Columbus Blue Jackets are also looking like they’ll make it in, but they’ll need a good final week in order to make sure.

Out West, the playoff picture is no clearer. The Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues both are in good position to take down division titles, but the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks could still conceivably make some noise in the closing week. The wild card picture is no clearer, with the Minnesota Wild likely safe and the Dallas Stars trying to fend off the Phoenix Coyotes for the second and final berth in the postseason.

One of the most interesting races is going on in the Central Division. The Blues, who dropped a 4-2 decision on Sunday to the Blackhawks, were watching with nervous anticipation as the Avalanche battled the Pittsburgh Penguins in Denver. The Penguins jumped out to an early lead, but the upstart Avs did get a point as they fought back before ultimately falling in the shootout.

The shootout loss by the Avs leaves them four points behind the Blues with four games to play, but the road to the playoffs isn’t going to be an easy one for Colorado. They have to head out on the road for all four of their remaining games, with their final two coming against the Sharks and Ducks, who could be dueling until the season’s final contests for the Pacific Division title.

Colorado isn’t just trying to win to stay in the race for the Central title, either. The Blackhawks, who have won three games in a row after beating the Blues Sunday, are currently just two points behind Colorado, and even though the Avs do have a game in hand, the Hawks have a slightly easier path heading into the postseason. They do have to face the red-hot Canadiens, who have won seven of their last eight games, but they also have contests against the defensively deficient Washington Capitals and the lowly Nashville Predators to wrap up the season.

The Central combatants will all be off on Monday, with the Blues and Avalanche both hitting the ice on Tuesday.

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