Jason Mowry/Icon SMI)
In what was an up-and-down week for the top four teams in the NHL's Central Division, it is a member of the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets who walks away with the first star of the week for Mar 30-Apr 5.
First Star: R.J Umberger, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets – For the second straight week, Umberger lit up the scoreboard and helped the Blue Jackets to some surprising late season victories. Umberger scored two goals in each of the team’s impressive wins over Florida and St. Louis and added an assist in last night’s win over Colorado. In total, he has scored eight goals in his last eight games and has developed a nice chemistry with rookie call-up Cam Atkinson.
Second Star: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators – Weber’s dominating play continued as he helped the Predators win three of their four games this week. On top of averaging close to 25 minutes per game, the rugged rearguard scored a goal in a 4-1 win over Detroit and tallied two more in a 5-4 loss to Chicago. A top candidate for the Norris Trophy, Weber appears to be heading into the playoffs at full strength and, along with Ryan Suter, will be counted on to anchor the club’s blueline as well as provide a fair share of offense.
Third Star: Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks – Kane’s week started off strong as he was the most dangerous Chicago forward, picking up a goal and an assist in a high-scoring 5-4 win over Nashville on Saturday. He followed that up by scoring two goals to force overtime and then scored in the shootout, but the Blackhawks would fall short in another high-scoring affair against Minnesota. Despite his production, Kane’s week concluded on a sour note as he was this time robbed in the shootout in the return match with Minnesota last night.
Central Division Notes
Chicago Blackhawks – With last night’s shootout loss in Minnesota, Chicago missed an excellent opportunity to perhaps move past Detroit, but that result may work out better in the end. Had the Blackhawks won last night and then won in regulation in their final game on Saturday against Detroit, the club would have moved into fifth and been matched up against Nashville in the first-round. Missing out on that point now means that Chicago will be the sixth seed in the West and play the winner of the Pacific division, a seemingly weaker team than Nashville.
Columbus Blue Jackets – It was a night to remember for Cam Atkinson. The diminutive rookie notched his first career hat-trick in the Blue Jackets 5-2 win over Colorado last night. After recording only three points in his first 21 games, the 22-year-old has now picked up seven points in his last five games and has looked a lot more comfortable with and without the puck. Winners of four of their past five, the Blue Jackets are ending their tough season on a positive note and will look to close out the year in style on Saturday vs. the New York Islanders.
Detroit Red Wings – Last night’s 2-1 loss to New Jersey could prove costly for Detroit in their push for home-ice in their playoff opening series against Nashville. After rattling off an NHL record 23 straight wins at home, the Red Wings dominance on home ice abandoned them down the stretch and may now cost them dearly. The Predators can clinch the fourth-seed with a win in their final game tomorrow night, and render Detroit’s final regular season game against Chicago on Saturday meaningless.
Nashville Predators – In the battle for fourth-place and home-ice advantage in the first-round of the playoffs, the Nashville Predators now control their own destiny. Defenseman Francis Boullion continued his surprising offensive production of late as he scored his third goal in the club’s past six games. Boullion’s goal at 4:28 of the third would turn out to be the game winner in a 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars. Now one point ahead of Detroit for fourth in the west, the Predators need only to beat the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday and they will be able to begin their playoff run at home.
St. Louis Blues – With Vancouver’s loss last night, the Blues slim chance at claiming first in the West remained alive. Two points back with a game in hand, the club must win their final two games and hope that the Canucks lose to the lowly Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. The front end of back-to-back games starts tonight against Phoenix followed by a trip to Dallas for the season finale tomorrow night.