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Central Division Weekly Roundup: Three playoff spots locked up, one remains

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The battle for the final playoff position will come down to the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: .724 P% (32-10-7) 71 Points

The Carolina Hurricanes have clinched a playoff berth in three straight seasons for the first time in Carolina franchise history. This also means that the Canes have at minimum made the playoffs every season that Rod Brind’Amour has been the head coach of the team. The good news for the team is that Brind’Amour has created the new expectation that the minimum each season is reaching the playoffs, but playoffs will no longer be enough. The Canes will need to perform in the playoffs and act as true Cup contenders.

The Hurricanes also know that they are in a position to win the division and they need to do just that. It is a huge difference having to beat Tampa Bay and Florida to get to the semifinals compared to Nashville or Dallas, and either Florida or Tampa. Looking ahead they do have a favorable schedule with just two road games remaining. They also face the bottom three teams in all five of their remaining home games.

The Canes finally got some good news on the injury front when they got Teuvo Teravainen back last night. It is great to give him eight full games to get his sea legs back after not playing since early March. He was a bit rusty on the play that led to the Stars’ only goal last night, but with more time he will settle in and hopefully be at 100% when the playoffs start in a couple of weeks.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning: .694 P% (33-14-2) 68 Points

The Lightning were the second team to clinch a playoff position last night with their own 7-4 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. This marks the fourth season in a row that they have clinched a playoff berth. With the same number of games left as the Canes, they are three points back, meaning they are over a full game behind the Canes.

They do have two games in hand over the Panthers and could easily overtake them in standings points to claim second in the division. They have seven games left in their season which includes three against the Stars and two each against the Red Wings and Panthers. Combined, the Lightning have a record of 11-6-0 against those teams.

3. Florida Panthers: .676 P% (32-14-5) 69 Points

With a 7-4 win last night the Florida Panthers clinched one of the four playoff spots in the Central Division. It has been good to see that the Panthers haven’t missed a beat since losing Aaron Ekblad for the season with a broken leg on March 30. Since that time, the Panthers have been the second-best team in the Central with an 8-5-1 record, which has only been bested by the Canes’ 9-2-4 record. Losing a top-pairing defenseman would make you think the team would suffer, but the Panthers still have a 53.5% Corsi, which is the seventh highest in the league in this time.

Defensively, the Panthers have seen both MacKenzie Weegar and former Hurricane Gustav Forsling step up. are the only two players on the team to average over 18 minutes of ice time per game in April and maintain a positive Corsi despite a negative offensive zone start percentage. Forsling’s rise has been impressive in going from a waiver claim in the pre-season to a top-pairing defenseman. He certainly wouldn’t have gotten the same opportunity with the Canes’ stacked blueline, but it is pretty incredible that he was lost for nothing and is now an impact player.

4. Dallas Stars: .551 P% (21-16-12) 54 Points

The Calder Trophy has been all but awarded to Krill Kaprizov this season and has been for the last two months. Dallas Stars rookie Jason Robertson has largely flown under the radar, but has quietly had an incredible rookie season. Robertson was drafted by the Dallas Stars 39th overall in the 2017 Entry Draft. The 21-year-old forward has 15 goals and 25 assists for 40 total points. He sits just seven goals and a single point behind Kaprizov but has six more assists than the 24-year-old Russian.

Kaprizov will likely finish second in the voting in a year that could see the Calder voting rules changed. Robertson’s goal last night means that he now has a nine-game point streak which sets a new Dallas Stars record for the longest point streak for a rookie. The record was formerly held by Jamie Langenbrunner. It is always good to get an opportunity to see the good young players around the league, and he certainly did not disappoint in the last two games. He could have had several more goals and points than he ended up with.

5. Nashville Predators: .549 P% (27-22-2) 56 Points

There was a lot made around the fact that Pekka Rinne didn’t want to leave Nashville when the team was looking to sell. The 38-year-old goaltender’s contract runs out at the end of the year, and he could very well retire after the season. If he does, it looks like he is leaving the Predators in good hands with Jusse Saros. At just 26 years old, Saros is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent coming off a $1.5-million contract. The Predators will want to protect Saros if he re-signs before the Seattle expansion draft.

Of all goalies who have played at least 10 games, Saros ranks third in the league with a .926 sv% behind only Alex Nedeljkovic and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Saros also leads the league in goals saved above average in 2021, which is five more than Vaskilevskiy, who sits in second. This means he has saved five more goals above average than the second-place goalie in this category and has saved 21 goals more than average over the course of 32 games played. To put that in perspective, Canes fans have loved Ned’s play this season and he sits at just 13.72.

6. Chicago Blackhawks: .500 P% (22-22-5) 49 Points

The Chicago Blackhawks have now had their second player retire mid-season. Andrew Shaw, who was another one of the players to win multiple Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, was forced to retire prematurely due to an accumulation of concussions. Shaw, who is 29 years old, always played a physical game and was never scared to drop the gloves to stand up for a teammate. Over 10 seasons he played 544 NHL games with the Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens, recording 116 goals, 131 assists, and 573 penalty minutes.

There was some good news for the Chicago Blackhawks in the last week. It looks like Jonathan Toews could return for the 2021-2022 season. The Captain has missed the entire season with symptoms that have left him feeling lethargic. This has also been the first good news about Toews this season, so this piece of good news is huge for the team and their fans who have only seen their vets retire mid-season.

7. Detroit Red Wings: .422 P% (17-25-9) 43 Points

The Detroit Red Wings’ insistence on beating the top teams of the division means that they are in danger of losing a top-five pick. They still have a game against the Canes and two games against Tampa Bay left and if we have learned from the past, they surely will win one or two of those games. Their biggest series remaining will actually be against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are locked in a battle for last in the division with Columbus and that spot will not be determined until the last game of the season. While it is not the typical battle fans would be paying attention to, this carries a huge swing in draft lottery odds.

With the Seattle Kraken also getting the third-best odds in the draft, the bottom-five battle between the two teams could mean a 5% difference in top-two odds and 3% in the top pick odds. Granted, the league does owe Detroit a lottery win after their recent years of bad luck and moving down in every draft in the past four years.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: .412 P% (16-25-10) 42 Points

The Columbus Blue Jackets have announced that Joonas Korpisalo will miss the remainder of the season with a lower-body injury. The goaltender left Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period. To replace Korpisalo, the Blue Jackets have recalled Matiss Kivlenieks from the taxi squad and have called up Daniil Tarasov from the AHL.

The Blue Jackets have been the anti-Predators this season. Whereas the Preds looked like early sellers and are now in playoff contention, the Blue Jackets looked promising and are now in the bottom five of the league. With a 1-7-2 record in their last 10 games, they have the second-worst record in the league over that span with only the 0-9-1 Devils being worse. They now sit at a 17.2% chance to move into the top two and an 8.5% chance to win the first pick. Due to the law that a Metropolitan Division team must with the lottery, they have the second-best chance behind the Devils to get into the top two.