The St. Louis Blues spent most of the first four months of the season trying to catch the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the Central Division. The Blues did it by winning three of their final four games before the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Now their task is to stay on top.
St. Louis returns to action with the best goal differential in the NHL at plus-61. Its forward lines are talented and deep and the defense is strong in its zone and moves the puck well. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have been solid if not spectacular.
Though St. Louis and Chicago each have 84 points, perhaps the biggest advantage the Blues hold in their quest to finish ahead of the defending Stanley Cup champions is that they've played three fewer games.
The Blues and Blackhawks are five points ahead of the surprising Colorado Avalanche, who look like a lock to earn the third of the Central's automatic playoff berths. The holders of the two Western Conference wild-card spots are well behind. The fourth-place Minnesota Wild trail Colorado by 10 points and the Dallas Stars are another five points behind Minnesota.
Here's a look at the seven Central teams as they prepare for the stretch run: