The battle for the Central Division lead is the closest race in the NHL right now, with three teams separated by two points. The Dallas Stars are currently one-point up on the St. Louis Blues and two ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks with all three teams having 13 games remaining in the regular season.
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With the race being as close as it is, any of the three teams could take the title. Although Dallas currently holds the lead, they’re only one losing streak away from battling for home ice advantage in the postseason. Similarly, the Hawks and Blues are one winning streak away from adding a new banner to their respective arenas.
The Dallas Stars (41-20-8) hold first place in the division with 90 points in 69 games after successfully beating the Hawks last night. Their win also inched them one closer to tying the Hawks in regulation/overtime wins, which would serve as the second tie-breaker if both teams ended the season with the same number of points.
Since they trail the Hawks by two in that regard, cutting the separation in half was a major boost for their chances of capturing the division lead come season’s end.
Dallas has the opportunity to take a three-point lead on the title tonight as they host the Blues on the second night of a back-to-back. Both teams played last night, but the Stars didn’t have to travel which should work in their favor.
Dallas’ biggest obstacle to the title, however, is their health. A number of Stars starters are injured including Patrick Sharp, Jordie Benn, Jason Demers and key defender John Klingberg.
That coupled with their schedule, that features games against the Nashville Predators, Colorado Avalanche and both the Blues and the Hawks, could prove to be enough adversity to keep them from the lead.
St. Louis (40-20-9) has 89 points in 69 games after a 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks last night. They will arguably facing the most difficult schedule of the teams fighting for the lead in the final games of the season. They’ll face off against the NHL-leading Washington Capitals twice, the playoff hopeful Colorado Avalanche twice and the Stars and Blackhawks once each as well.
Tonight they’ll visit the Stars in a battle for the Western Conference and Central Division lead. The Blues are one point behind the Stars after both teams earned two-points in matching 5-2 wins last night to pass the Hawks in the standings.
While their schedule does them no favors in their pursuit of the division lead, they play the most shutdown defensive style of hockey out of the three contenders. They’re currently on a five-game winning streak and if they can keep the momentum rolling, they could just take the title.
Their dark horse position and streaky goaltending make the Blues a dangerous team. Since they’re currently on a winning streak they could overtake the lead. Jake Allen can single-handedly win games for St. Louis when he’s on his game and when the defense is communicating to the best of their ability, the Blues are tough to beat.
St. Louis has to end the season with more points than their division rivals, though, because they sit at 35 regulation/overtime wins. That puts them four wins behind Dallas and six behind Chicago in the first tie-breaker.
Chicago sits third in the race with 88 points in 69 games played this season. Their (41-22-6) record and 40 regulation/overtime victories on the year put them just ahead of the Dallas Stars, but they trail them by two points for the lead.
Last night the Hawks had the opportunity to increase their hold on the division lead; however, they fell to the Stars 5-2 thanks to poor special teams play. The back and forth battle between the two rivals has been one of the most competitive in the league this season and the Stars have won three of the four match-ups thus far with one match-up left.
For Chicago to capture the divisional lead they merely have to win more games than the other two teams in contention. While that seems rather simple, it’s certainly much more difficult than it sounds.
The Hawks will take on the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Minnesota Wild in their remaining games, all of which are teams desperate for points that they hope will earn them a playoff position. Desperate teams are some of the most difficult opponents and the Hawks will have to maintain a high level of play to come out on top.
Whichever team comes out the winner will have a lot to be proud of considering the intensity of the race, but despite the honor of winning the division, the teams in contention are after something much, much greater.
Making the playoffs is just the first step of many towards reaching the ultimate goal in hockey: the Stanley Cup.
Which team do you think will take the Central Division title? Leave your thoughts in the comments.