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Central Division Weekly Roundup: The Rich Get Richer

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The top three teams in the division stay hot, Canes with a six-game win streak, Lightning won eight out of 10.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Tampa Bay Lightning: .792 P% (18-4-2) 38 Points

After three straight tough games against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Lighting are happy to have two against the Detroit Red Wings. Their final game against Chicago saw the Lightning go down by three goals and score six straight goals to win 6-3. The Lightning struggled against the Blackhawks with Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta missing games with injuries. John Cooper was very excited to have his defensemen back in the lineup last night.

Cernak recorded two points, including the game-tying goal in the third period. He also assisted on Tyler Johnson’s goal in the first period. Again, the Lightning found themselves down against an inferior team, but like they have done all season they came back to win. It is good to see the Hurricanes matching this kind of play where good teams just find ways to win. The Lighting now move to 8-1-1 in their last 10 games with an absolute bonkers +36 goal differential.

2. Carolina Hurricanes: .740 P% (18-6-1) 37 Points

The news of Teuvo Teravainen’s concussion symptoms creeping back up is very unfortunate. He has not skated with the main group this week and has yet to return to action after he played last Thursday against Detroit. The frustrating thing is that there is no timetable for something like this every person and concussion are different, and the team will just need to root for him to feel better each day so he can return soon.

In his absence, Rod Brind’Amour has decided to anchor Sebastian Aho with both Brock McGinn and Warren Foegele. This is like the full Sidney Crosby method of line construction. For years he has played with bums and made them huge contracts while Evgeni Malkin plays with a strong line. If that line is still able to produce, it’s a matchup catastrophe for other teams who also have to plan against the Vincent Trocheck line and the Andrei Svechnikov line. So far, they have produced a goal and Aho is still thriving on special teams; he scored one on the penalty kill with Jordan Martinook on Sunday and a power-play goal last night.

Alex Nedeljkovic is really forcing the Hurricanes’ hands. He has a .926 sv% this season. That is the fourth-best in goalies that have played at least eight games. He also brings a unique element to his game with his ability to play the puck and create breakouts single-handedly. I like James Reimer and he has played better than what most acknowledge, but you cannot sit Nedeljkovic after his most recent stint with the Canes.

3. Florida Panthers: .720 P% (16-5-4) 36 Points

The Florida Panthers are down on the season matchup 7-4 in standings points to the Carolina Hurricanes at the halfway point of the season series. The regulation loss last week was the first time that the two teams didn’t have a three-point matchup. While the overtime games are good to help separate the two teams from the rest of the division, you can tell these teams know the importance of these matchups. The two Florida teams and Carolina are all vying for the top three seeds. The winner of these three gets the ultimate prize and gets to avoid the other two teams in this group while the third-place team has to start the round on the road.

At the start of the season, I would not have picked the Florida Panthers as the main rival for the Carolina Hurricanes, but here we are. The Nashville Predators, who were the favorites for this before the season, have been terrible so naturally, the Panthers have emerged. This last game was incredible to watch, as we saw James Reimer at the red line waiting to jump into a scrum and Chris Driedger jumping over the boards to be the seventh man on the ice and somehow avoid a penalty. These intense games have been awesome, and the four remaining are certainly circled on my calendar … Circling something on your calendar meant that you were looking forward to it on a paper calendar for everyone who doesn’t understand that…

4. Chicago Blackhawks: .574 P% (13-9-5) 36 Points

Chicago Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach returned to practice on Monday, but Jeremy Colliton still believes he has a way to go before returning. Dach is recovering from wrist surgery after breaking his wrist at the World Juniors in December. Dach is hoping that he can continue the success he had at the end of his rookie season where he had eight goals and 15 assists in 64 games played. This is still good news to see any advancement on the injury front.

Last week, long-time Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook announced his retirement from the NHL after 15 seasons in Chicago. He played the third-most games in franchise history with 1,114 games played and three Stanley Cups. While he has not officially retired, he ended his playing career and the Chicago Blackhawks will now be able to place him on LTIR and his $6.875 million will not count against the cap limit for the Hawks. His contract runs through the 2023-2024 season and will not need to be protected in the expansion draft.

5. Dallas Stars: .500 P% (8-8-5) 21 Points

The Dallas Stars have now played nine games since returning to play from the winter storm postponements. They had played just 13 before the winter storm halted their season. Since returning they have just a 2-5-1 record. The good news for their fans is that they do now have a three-game point streak that has seen them score at least three goals in each of those games. This is a huge turnaround from their previous six games that saw them reach that total just once.

The Stars got John Klingberg and Roope Hintz back last night. Klingberg missed a game for the birth of his daughter and Hintz has been in and out of the lineup with an injury. They are still without Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. Radulov has been a huge loss for the team. He has 11 points in just eight games played and Seguin led the team last season with 50 points in 69 games. Seguin was set to miss four months when he had surgery in November so he could be back at the end of this month or in April. With a backloaded schedule, the Stars could end up having more games with Seguin back in the lineup.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: .463 P% (10-12-5) 25 Points

The Columbus Blue Jackets have activated goaltender Elvis Merzlikins from IR. He has not played since Feb. 20 when he injured his shoulder against the Nashville Predators. Since then, Joonas Korpisalo has started seven-straight games including a back-to-back set against the Predators to end February. In that time, Columbus went 3-3-1 and Korpisalo registered a .917 sv%.

Patrick Laine has struggled offensively as of late. The Finn had three goals in his first three games with the Blue Jackets but has registered just three goals in his last 14 games and no points in his last seven. His struggles are a microcosm of the Blue Jackets' issues. Offensively, in the last two weeks, they rank 30th with 1.5 goals per game, and Laine’s struggles are a big reason why. They also have a 5.6% success rate on the power play so they can’t get the offense going with a man advantage. They now move to a 9-10-3 record since the Laine trade was made.

7. Nashville Predators: .442 P% (11-14-1) 23 Points

The Nashville Predators announced that captain Roman Josi is week-to-week with an upper-body injury. He is the second player in two days to be added to the list. Nashville also announced they will be without Matt Duchene for three to five weeks with a lower-body injury. Josi and Duchene are the fourth and fifth players in the last week that have been added to the IR for the Predators. They join Ryan Ellis, Luke Kunin and Juuse Saros, who have all gotten hurt since the Predators played the Canes last Tuesday.

After the Predators' loss last night their playoff odds move down to 17.6% according to Money Puck, which is the eighth lowest odds in the league. At this point, the Predators’ season couldn’t be more off the rails after finishing sixth last year and getting bounced in the qualifying round by the Coyotes. The Predators added skill to get back to where they were but instead are 24th in the league.

8. Detroit Red Wings: .333 P% (7-16-4) 18 Points

The Detroit Red Wings finished in last place by 23 points but still fell to fourth in the draft lottery. Between that result and the Edmonton Oilers winning so many lotteries in such a small timeframe, there are discussions about the NHL changing the draft lottery system. During the Board of Governors meeting that happened earlier this week, three rule changes were proposed. One of the major changes would be that only the top two picks would be determined in the draft, which would prevent a team like the Red Wings from falling all the way to four again.

One other proposed change came from last year’s draft with the New York Rangers winning to move up to second in the 2019 draft and first in the 2020 draft. This would then prevent them from being able to move up again during this year’s draft. So the changes both increase the Red Wings’ chances to win a first overall pick they desperately deserve and minimize the chances for the NHL to make sure the largest media market in the league doesn’t randomly win another lottery.