Nine days ago, it looked like the Chicago Blackhawks had no chance to win the Central Division and might wind up in third place. That was after the Blackhawks lost 3-2 at home to the Nashville Predators, a team unlikely to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Predators come back to United Center on Sunday, and a lot has changed in the interim. The Blackhawks have gone 3-0-1 since that loss, with one of the wins coming against the division-leading St. Louis Blues. Chicago's 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday and the Blues' 4-1 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday have cut Chicago's deficit in the division race to a more manageable four points.
Here's a look at all of the action Sunday:
Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Islanders -- The Blue Jackets went from third place in the Metropolitan Division to outside the playoff field in less than 24 hours after losing 3-1 at home to the New York Rangers on Friday. They have a chance to move back into one of the wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference by beating the Islanders. New York has been off since being routed 6-0 at home by the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. But the time off hasn't been kind: Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (upper body) is out and first-line right wing Kyle Okposo hasn't skated since leaving practice Friday with a lower-body injury.
St. Louis Blues at Pittsburgh Penguins -- St. Louis' offense has gone cold. The Blues were shut out 4-0 in Chicago on Wednesday and managed one goal in the loss at Philadelphia despite outshooting the Flyers 33-19. That's not the case with the Penguins, who've scored 13 times in their past three games. Evgeni Malkin had two goals and two assists Saturday; the second helper came on James Neal's power-play goal in overtime that gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Toronto Maple Leafs at New Jersey Devils -- David Clarkson, a fan favorite during his time in New Jersey, returns to Newark in a visiting uniform for the first time after signing a long-term free-agent contract with the Maple Leafs last summer. He has four goals and 10 points in 50 games with Toronto after scoring 45 goals in 128 games during his last two seasons with the Devils. Each team is coming off a painful home loss to an archrival: Toronto lost 4-3 to the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey fell 2-0 to the Rangers. Toronto still holds the first wild-card position in the East despite losing four in a row; the Devils are six points out of the second wild-card spot.
Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks -- The Predators ended a three-game trip in Chicago on March 14; they end a four-game sojourn at United Center on Sunday looking for a split after a wild 6-5 win against the Calgary Flames on Friday. The Blackhawks are missing a handful of key players, including star forward Patrick Kane, due to injury. But they haven't lost in regulation since the Predators' last visit and are going for their third win in a row as they try to gain ground on the Blues.
Minnesota Wild at Detroit Red Wings -- This is the back end of an old-fashioned, home-and-home weekend series. The Red Wings went to Xcel Energy Center on Saturday afternoon and left with a 3-2 victory thanks to a third-period goal by rookie Gustav Nyquist, who scored for the 16th time in 22 games. The victory moved the Red Wings into the second wild-card position in the East. The Wild hold the first wild-card spot in the West despite going 1-2-2 in their past five games.
Buffalo Sabres at Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks' flickering playoff hopes will get some reinforcements. First-line left wing Daniel Sedin will return after missing nine games with a leg injury, and that should help an offense that has struggled to score. Vancouver coach John Tortorella said Sedin will definitely return and center Ryan Kesler, the Canucks' leader with 22 goals, may also be ready to go after a knee injury. More goals would be a welcome boost as the Canucks try to overcome a five-point deficit in the race for the second wild-card position in the West. The last-place Sabres will use rookie goaltender Nathan Lieuwen, who grew up an hour away from Vancouver and rooted for the Canucks as a kid.
Florida Panthers at Anaheim Ducks -- Florida finishes a tough four-game, six-day trip to California and Arizona looking for a split after a 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. The Ducks have had a couple of days to regroup after a disappointing 3-2 road loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday that dropped them into second place in the Pacific Division. Anaheim is 3-4-2 in March but has a chance to get rolling again in the next couple of weeks: This begins a stretch of nine games against teams that are currently outside a playoff position in their conference.