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The odds are long, but division can still go 5-for-5

Friday, 04.03.2009 / 10:00 PM / Division Notebooks

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Three weeks ago, we wrote about how all five teams from the Central Division could potentially make the playoffs. It would be the second time in NHL history that something like this would happen.

"We're hoping that happens again," St. Louis GM Larry Pleau told us at the time.

With nine days left in the regular season, all five teams are still very much alive. Starting Saturday, there are 15 games left involving Central Division teams and 11 of them have direct implications on the playoff race.

The odds may still be stacked against all five getting in, but the odds were also stacked against St. Louis and Nashville bouncing back from poor first halves.

So yeah, we're saying there's a chance.

"I don't see why not," Chicago forward Patrick Sharp told NHL.com.

Detroit and Chicago are already in, but you can't gloss over them just yet.

The Red Wings have a key game against Minnesota Sunday on NBC (12:30 p.m. ET). They would be doing a disservice to their division comrades if they didn't win. Minnesota is in the mix in the Western race and the Blues and Predators need them to lose.

The Hawks, meanwhile, have only divisional games left, including two against Columbus, one against Nashville and two against Detroit next weekend. If you're like us in thinking the Blue Jackets are pretty safe, then only one of those games (at Nashville) can impact the bottom of the race.

Remember, though, the Jackets aren't in yet, but they could be with a pair of wins this weekend at Nashville and home against Chicago. They have five games left, of which three can impact what the Blues and Predators are trying to accomplish.

So, we're down to two, but here is where things get really tricky considering Nashville and St. Louis are battling Anaheim, Edmonton, Minnesota and Dallas (yes, still) for the final two spots.

The Predators needed a win, or at least a point, against Chicago on Friday night. They instead lost, 3-1, as the Hawks punched their ticket. The Predators are only one point back in ninth place, but they still have to play Chicago, Columbus and Detroit. That's three games against three teams ahead of them before they close the regular season at Minnesota on Friday.

Like we said, Nashville needed something out of Friday's game against Chicago.

The eighth-place Blues, who stunned Detroit, 5-4, Thursday night, behind four goals from David Backes, have it slightly easier than the Predators. Three of their last four games are against teams that are out of the playoff race, but they're all on the road (at Dallas, Phoenix and Colorado). They also play the Blue Jackets at home. They control their own destiny.

Anaheim, which has won eight of its last nine games to move into seventh with 86 points, looks like it will be a tough out, a really tough out in fact. The good news for the Central Division teams is the Ducks play San Jose twice this weekend and that could potentially cool them off. You'll have to stay tuned for that.

Minnesota picked up a huge two points Friday night with its 4-0 win over Calgary, moving just one point behind the Predators and two behind the Blues. The win essentially kept the Wild alive, so we have to keep our eye on them as they have 83 points and three games left against Central Division teams (Detroit, Nashville, Columbus) and one against Dallas.

If the Central Division teams are serious about getting all five in, then the Wings, Predators and Jackets will have to wipe the Wild out.

The Oilers play red-hot Vancouver on Saturday and still have two left against Calgary. It's a difficult schedule and they trail the eighth place Blues by four points now. Still, don't count them out.

The Stars virtually eliminated themselves from the playoff race with Thursday's 2-1 loss to Calgary. Mathematically they were still in entering Friday, but it's not going to happen for them.

So, if the Blues and Predators take care of their business the rest of the way, the Sharks take a bite out of the Ducks, the Red Wings and Columbus knock out Minnesota and the Flames help out by winning the Battle of Alberta, then yeah, all five Central Division teams could make it.

Just check back with us next weekend, OK?

Hilarious anecdote -- There was a very funny post by Blue Jackets beat writer Aaron Portzline in the very informative Puck-rakers blog on the Columbus Dispatch's Web site Thursday.

Portzline wrote that recently recalled rookie Nikita Filatov didn't have his own place to change Wednesday because all 28 locker stalls in Columbus' dressing room were being used. So, Filatov was given a folding chair and had to change in the middle of the room.

"It's still better than in Syracuse," Filatov joked to Portzline. "I'm happy to be here again."

Filatov was summoned to Columbus by GM Scott Howson earlier in the week so he could experience what being in an NHL playoff push is all about.

Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock might not even play the young Russian, who was the sixth pick at last June's draft, but Filatov will be practicing with the NHL club and may stick around for the playoffs, too.

Is Franzen holding a pen? -- There were reports in Friday's editions of the Detroit Free-Press and Detroit News that the Red Wings are close to signing Johan Franzen to a long-term contract.

Franzen confirmed that the two sides are indeed talking and "getting closer, too."

 
Detroit GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free-Press that he'd like to have something done by the playoffs.

Similarly, Marian Hossa told NHL.com this week that he would like to return to Detroit if the deal is fair for both sides and his preference is to have a deal in place before the playoffs as well. Holland said he's closer to a deal with Franzen than he is with Hossa.

Whether Holland can get both signed at all, let alone before the playoffs, is still very much up in the air.

Arnott skating, return soon -- Predators captain Jason Arnott practiced Thursday for the first time since suffering a concussion March 10. He hopes to play Tuesday against Chicago.

Arnott, who leads the Predators with 27 goals, said patience has to be a virtue with this type of injury.

"You've got to be 100 percent sure that you're ready to come back with a head injury," he told The Tennessean. "It's not like a sore knee or a sore shoulder or something like that, where you can maybe fight through the pain a little bit. Physically, I feel great. It's just that I've got to get back on the ice -- receiving passes, picking up guys flying by, things like that."

Finding his groove -- It appears Sami Pahlsson has found his niche with the Blackhawks, and it's one he's quite familiar with.

"We're looking at him as being a shutdown guy who's hard to play against," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Wednesday's 3-1 win against St. Louis, when Pahlsson scored his first goal in a Chicago uniform. "That's what we appreciated about him with Anaheim."

"We're looking at him as being a shutdown guy who's hard to play against. That's what we appreciated about him with Anaheim."
-- Hawks coach Joel Quenneville

Pahlsson missed his first six games after being traded from Anaheim to Chicago at the deadline because he was still fighting off mononucleosis. He debuted March 18, but really started turning it on six games later against Vancouver.

In his last four games, Pahlsson has two goals, one assist and he's won 34 of his 55 faceoffs (62 percent).

Gateway fever -- The Blues have only one home game left in the regular season (and we stress regular season), so their game against Columbus on Friday will be Fan Appreciation Night.

The team announced earlier this week that fans will be chosen at random to go down to the ice after the game and literally receive the jersey off a Blue's back. It's their way of saying thank you to their fans, who have demonstrated their loyalty in droves this season.

The Blues have averaged 18,537 fans this season. They have sold out 28 games and should have another full house Friday night.

"Even when the team was not winning, they were coming to support us," Blues goalie Chris Mason said. "We have some exciting young players. They just wanted us to put in a gritty work ethic and just be that hard-nosed kind of gritty team, and we were doing that. Now we are finally able to pay them back with some wins."

The Blues are 22-13-5 at home this season.

"Our last couple of games here have just been crazy with us inching in there and fighting for that last spot; it's just been unbelievable," Mason said. "It feels like it's the playoffs."

This and that -- Jason Chimera may return to the Blue Jackets lineup Saturday at Nashville. He has been out since Feb. 24 with a groin injury. ... Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski, who sat out the last two games with an ailing groin, hopes to be back soon. He's reportedly targeting Thursday's game against Nashville, but there's a slim chance he could play Monday at Buffalo.

He said it -- Blues forward David Backes after scoring four goals, including his first game-winner of the season, in Thursday's 5-4 win against the Red Wings:

"I don't know what happened there. Kind of one of those games where you black out and the next thing you know people are patting you on the back."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com


Quote of the Day

It's always a little bit weird, but it moves on. They've got a good team, and they played well tonight. I think that's just part of it.

— Peter Laviolette on facing his former team (Flyers) for the first time since his departure