March Madness In The Central
By Greg @GreekGoalie35
One month from today marks the end of what has been one of the best regular seasons in Nashville Predators history. Although that’s difficult for some to comprehend after the team dropped six straight before knocking off the Mcdavid pursuing Coyotes, the Preds earned a valuable two points along with their first two-day off stretch since the All-Star break. It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but style points mean nothing this time of year. That being said, the slump has allowed the Blues and Blackhawks to make up significant ground on the Preds, who at one point held a double-digit point lead on both.
Chicago is seven points back and some will dismiss them as a threat. First off, they have two games in hand on Nashville, which obviously has the potential to cut that lead to a mere three points. Secondly, they have the easiest schedule of any of the Central division contenders. Nine of their remaining 16 games come against teams that are currently out of the playoffs, with 7 of those teams being completely out of it. They have a 4-game stretch starting March 21st that has them playing Dallas, Carolina, Philadelphia and Columbus. Though no games are true gimmies, that’s about as easy as it gets.
St. Louis blew a 3-goal lead in the third period last night but came away victorious over Winnipeg after a fluky goal in the final minute of regulation. That win has them sitting just two points behind the Preds with two games in hand. The good news is that they clearly have the toughest schedule remaining with 12 of their final 16 games coming against playoff teams. Starting March 17th, they kick off a brutal road trip playing 5 games in 8 days vs Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Detroit and Pittsburgh. To top that off, they finish the season with 4 straight games against division foes that are in the playoffs, two vs hated rival Chicago.
The Preds don’t exactly have it easy either. Lavi’s bunch start a stretch of 4 games in 6 days tomorrow in San Jose and finish it off at home vs a scorching hot Minnesota team. They will get some rest by playing just once over the next 6 days (against Buffalo mind you), before having their own difficult run of 5 games in 8 days vs playoff teams. That stretch begins on March 24th vs Montreal, at Tampa Bay, at Washington, Calgary and Vancouver. If Nashville has to make up some points, they will have that chance over their final 4 games, three of which against Dallas and Colorado. While the Preds (hopefully) beat those teams, Chicago and St. Louis play each other twice in a span of 5 days in what PredNation can only hope are games decided in regulation.
Some started to panic over the course of the last 2 weeks, and some got excited over beating Arizona in OT, but the truth is we should be somewhere in the middle. Although the Blues are right on our tails, they have a tough schedule to close out the final month. Chicago has an easier road, but still have a good bit of ground to make up to overtake Nashville. What we can all agree on, is that this race will come down to the final couple of games. The difference in winning the division or end up playing Chicago/St. Louis in the first round, could cost the team a deep playoff run. Buckle up!