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Central Intelligence: Key injuries affecting teams in playoff push

Injuries dot the rosters of teams preparing for postseason run

by Kayleigh Jackson / Wild.com

With three Central Division teams locked into the postseason, two eliminated and two still battling for the remaining wild card spot, the few remaining games of the regular season are pivotal to earn positioning and, for some, even a shot at a championship. 

But the injury bug has bitten, and it's bitten hard. Central teams have lost not only several players in recent days but core players. 

The Wild announced that Ryan Suter will undergo surgery on a fractured right ankle and miss the rest of the season recovering. Jared Spurgeon has already missed 11 games with a partial hamstring tear, and while the Wild may get him back in the first round of playoffs, the absence of the team's top two defensemen is a blow. 

Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin, along with Nate Prosser and a corps of recalls from Iowa, have done more than admirably in the two players' absence. But Suter is an irreplaceable presence on the blue line, particularly in the sheer number of minutes he plays per game. 

The Colorado Avalanche is also missing one of its top defensemen, and its position is still more precarious than the Wild's. Colorado and St. Louis are locked in a battle for the final wild card spot; their final games of the regular season pit them against one another. 

The Avs are missing defenseman Erik Johnson, out at least six weeks with a fractured patella, and goalender Semyon Varlamov, out indefinitely with a knee injury of his own. Varlamov has dealt with previous injuries this season, as has Jonathan Bernier, making the situation in net unpredictable but usually reliable. Now, it's all on Bernier's shoulders. 

Johnson also missed 13 games earlier this season with an upper-body injury. Like Minnesota, the Avs managed to stay afloat without their key players. 

St. Louis is missing a defenseman of its own in Carl Gunnarsson, who underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair an ACL tear. Gunnarsson will be re-evaluated in six months. Meanwhile, forward Scottie Upshall is out indefinitely with a lacerated kidney -- not your usual hockey injury, perhaps, but a serious one nonetheless. 

Since the two have sustained injuries, St. Louis has struggled to gain ground and move into the wild card position, including giving up a goal to Chicago with 8.5 seconds left in a tied game on Wednesday night. While the Blues have both surged and struggled during stretches this season, the loss of a reliable defenseman and solid bottom-six forward isn't helping their case for the playoffs. 

The top two teams in the division, Nashville and Winnipeg, are in a somewhat more stable situation. Last year, the Predators powered through the playoffs even as Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen sustained season-ending injuries in the second round and Conference Finals, respectively. 

The Jets are missing three players: Dmitry Kulikov, whose status with a back injury will be updated in 3-4 weeks; Matt Hendricks, out 6-8 weeks with a lower-body injury; and Toby Enstrom, out for the remainder of the regular season with a lower-body injury. 

Compared to earlier stretches in the season, where core players like Jacob Trouba, Steve Mason and Mark Scheifele missed extended periods of time, and patches where Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien among myriad other players have missed games, this list isn't the worst it could be -- or has been -- for Winnipeg. 

Still, roster depth is key in maintaining playoff success, and regardless of if a team is missing its stars or its fourth-liners it will want to be as healthy as possible to ensure a lengthy postseason run.

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