Some folks just like to watch the world burn. We at Central Divided are those folks. As the Western Conference playoff race descends into the type of chaos usually reserved for a Michael Bay editing room, every game’s importance grows. As of March 12th, every single team in the Central Division has a conceivable shot at making it into the playoffs. So, with less than 15 games left for everybody, let’s take a look at the most important games left in the regular season. Mind you, we won’t be ranking all remaining games, (we’ve got day jobs guys, there’s no time for that) just the ones that have the most riding on them. That way you know when to tune in to witness the most magical part of this great game; when teams get their hearts ripped out. Without further ado, here are the biggest games still on the board. Get your remotes ready!
10) March 13th: Chicago Blackhawks - Toronto Maple Leafs
They might be dead last in the Central Division, but the Hawks are still making things interesting. After a disastrous California road trip, Chicago have won three-straight, the latest being an emphatic 7-1 beatdown of a Coyotes team also pushing hard for the playoffs. Next up, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The road ahead is daunting for Chicago, playing the likes of the Preds, Jets, Canadiens, & Sharks in their remaining games. If the Blackhawks can push their win streak to four by beating a great Toronto squad while on the road… well, they might make true believers out of themselves. However, if they lose, It might be the final nail in the most volatile Blackhawks season since Dollar Bill departed this world.
9) March 25th: Dallas Stars - Winnipeg Jets
Both of these teams have a high chance of making the playoffs but each team would like to shore up their standings. Dallas will want to avoid the stress of being the last team in while the Jets are trying to fend off the Predators for 1st in the Central. If the standings don't change, fans from both teams will want to watch since this is currently penciled in as a first-round matchup. Get your notebooks and eat some tape!
8) March 19th: Colorado Avalanche - Minnesota Wild
The Avalanche have lost Gabriel Landeskog for the remainder of the regular season. Despite that, Colorado is only two points away from Minnesota’s Wild Card spot. This could be a huge opportunity for the Avs who have very winnable games against Anaheim and New Jersey before traveling to the state of hockey. My pick? The Wild win 3-1
7) April 6th: Chicago Blackhawks @Nashville Predators
In a perfect world, the cosmic writers draft up a win-or-go-home game for the Blackhawks to set the scene. It is far more likely though that the Blackhawks will be out of playoff contention by the time the puck is dropped on the final game of the season. Even if that is the case, the Preds still have a lot to lose. Home Ice is not a lock against the Blues, who are 3-0 at home against Nashville.
6) March 31st: Minnesota Wild - Arizona Coyotes
Here’s what the four previous games look like for the Wild before they travel to play Arizona, the only Pacific team with a real shot at the playoffs. They will play Washington, (Away) Carolina, (Away) Nashville, and Vegas (Away). *Shocked Face Emoji* I could have picked any of those games as must-see TV but I have a feeling that it will be the Arizona game that breaks Minnesota if they end up in a dead heat for the last Wild Card spot. If the rest of the Western pack gains more ground, it would make this a must win for the Wild with only three games remaining in the year. But if they win, they might inadvertently clear the path for another Central team to pass Arizona and ultimately usurp the Wild in the Wild Card race. Damned if you win, damned if you lose.
5) March 14th: Dallas Stars - Minnesota Wild
At the time of publication, the Stars hold the first Western Wild Card spot. They have two games in hand on the Wild and their 75 points best their northern rivals by one. The winner of this game will (temporarily) take control of the “safest” Wild Card slot and directly slow down their direct competition. Dallas has only lost once in the past 6 games. Ben Bishop is bringing in a three game shutout streak. Meanwhile, Minnesota has dropped four of their last five. The onus to perform is squarely on the Wild, and though they are at home, my gut says the Stars take it.
4) March 23rd & 24th: Colorado Avalanche – Chicago Blackhawks Home & Home
Yeah, this is two games, get over it. If either of these teams want to go to the playoffs, they will have to enter this Home & Home Thunderdome and leave victorious. A split of the two games helps no one. Both teams, but most certainly the Hawks, must take both games. It will be an intense six periods of hockey. My guess? I mean, of course they split! Losers…
3) April 1st: Colorado Avalanche - St. Louis Blues
There will be three games remaining for each of these teams by the final horn on April Fool’s and for Colorado, the dream of an extended season might turn into a sick joke. The Blues are 3-0 against the Avs this season.
2) April 6th: Minnesota Wild - Dallas Stars
The last game of the year and both of these teams might be fighting for the same Wild Card spot. We could potentially have another play-in game on our hands like we did last season between the Blues & the Avalanche. Or this could be a meaningless game with both teams having already stamped their ticket to the playoffs. I have a feeling though that at least one of these teams will not have locked a spot up, so this game will most certainly have late-stage implications, and possibly massive ones.
1) March 23rd: Nashville Predators - Winnipeg Jets
This one could end up being for all the marbles. It could be to see who has home ice advantage in the second round of the playoffs. Or it could be to see who gets to lose to the St. Louis Blues in the opening round. As of March 11th, The Jets hold the smallest of leads over the Predators for the Central crown. Winnipeg does have two games in hand but a regulation win for Nashville could be enough to take the lead in the division. Although it didn’t prove enough to lead them past the Jets last year, any dummy would know that they’d rather not play a Game 7 in Winnipeg. If they lose though, the Preds better get their 1st Runners Up Central Division Champions banner ready.