Central: Blackhawks creeping up on division leaders

By Andrew Sykes

 

Photo: Chicago Blackhawks rookie Andrew Shaw scores a goal in his team's 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Sunday night (courtesy of

Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

If the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators thought that the race for fourth-place in the Western Conference would only be between each other then they likely haven’t been keeping a close enough eye on the rear-view mirror.

With last night’s win over Washington, the Chicago Blackhawks have now joined the battle for home-ice in the first round of the playoffs, with that team now standing just four points back of Nashville and Detroit for fourth-place in the conference and home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.

A week ago it looked as if it would be a two-team race, but Chicago’s resurgence coupled with some inconsistent play by the Red Wings has opened the door for the Blackhawks to move closer to both Detroit and Nashville in the standings.

Although Detroit has seen their hold on fourth-place loosen, they are still in a good position considering they have what looks to be the most favourable remaining schedule of the three teams. With seven of their final 10 games at home, the Red Wings will hope that their dominant play in front of the home crowd can propel them to a home-ice advantage in a first round playoff match-up, likely against either Nashville or Chicago.

The Predators will split their 10 remaining games at home and on the road but face some tough road contests against the likes of St. Louis and Pittsburgh, as well as visits to both Detroit and Chicago.

On top of being four points back, the Blackhawks also have a very tough remaining schedule with five of their last nine games being played away from the United Center. Road games against New Jersey, Detroit and Nashville, plus challenging home games against Vancouver, Nashville and St. Louis will test the club’s playoff mettle, something that should be of help going forward regardless of their ability to move up in the standings.

Central Division Notes

Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks went two-for-two in their weekend games and are garnering a great deal of confidence heading into the final three weeks of the season. A dominating 4-1 over Dallas on Friday night followed by another impressive performance in Sunday’s 5-2 home win over Washington sees the team on a current three-game win streak, a streak they will look to extend in games this week at Columbus on Tuesday and at home vs. Vancouver on Wednesday.

Columbus Blue JacketsSteve Mason returned to the crease in the Blue Jackets hard fought 4-3 loss to Vancouver on Friday, but helped the team halt a four-game skid with a 2-1 shootout win in Calgary last night. Having wrapped up a three-game road trip, the Blue Jackets will look to play the role of spoilers once again on Tuesday night when they tangle with the surging Chicago Blackhawks.

Detroit Red Wings - Detroit saw their road losing streak extended to five games but they did manage to pick up an important point in a 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose on Saturday night. Pavel Datsyuk played 19 minutes and scored in his return to the lineup following knee surgery. He is likely to have his ice time increased as the team kicks off a trio of games against Eastern Conference opponents starting tonight when they host the Washington Capitals, followed by a trip to the Big Apple for a meeting with the East-leading Rangers on Wednesday.

Nashville PredatorsAfter a 4-2 loss to Los Angeles on Saturday, the Predators wrapped up their California trip with a solid road effort against Anaheim yesterday. Anders Lindback made 30 saves while Patric Hornqvist and Mike Fisher both netted their 23rd goals of the season in the 3-1 win. Nashville returns home to face the Oilers on Tuesday and then face a major challenge in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

St. Louis Blues - Currently the only team in the league to have clinched a playoff berth, the Blues lone game this weekend came in a 3-1 win in Tampa on Saturday. Jaden Schwartz’s first NHL goal turned out to be the game winner and Jaroslav Halak made 22 saves to earn his 26th victory of the season. The Blues will begin the back-end of their seven game road-trip with games against Anaheim and Los Angeles on Wednesday and Thursday.

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