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Central Intelligence: Division's stretch slog begins

Many teams are bunched tightly because no club has been able to sustain a lengthy run ... yet

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

As the second half of the regular season commences, teams inside the Central Division have found some tough sledding of late.

Early in the year, Central teams were dominant: Nashville and Winnipeg were their usual selves. Minnesota and Colorado got off to great starts. Dallas was in the wild-card mix. 

For much of the first six weeks of the season, it looked like a shoe-in that the Central would send five teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs once again.

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Central Intelligence: Rantanen finishes off historic first month for Avs

Forward ties Joe Sakic's franchise record for points, assists in month of October

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

It's been a historic month for Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche. 

Named the NHL's First Star for the month of October, Rantanen led the League in scoring, posting 21 points. He was the only player in the League to reach 20 during October, outdistancing Boston's Patrice Bergeron and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin by two points.

Of those 21 points, 16 came on assists, playing on the NHL's most explosive line with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. Both numbers tied Joe Sakic's franchise record for most points and assists during the season's opening month; Sakic accomplished the feat in 1996.

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Central Intelligence: A look around the Central Division

Five teams made the playoffs last season and easily could again in 2018-19

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

While each division in the NHL can make a case, there's little doubt which one is actually the most difficult to gauge as a new season begins.

The League's two top regular season teams from last season each resided in the Central, where the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets battled for the President's Trophy for most of the season.

The Minnesota Wild have made the postseason six consecutive seasons, one of just three teams in the League to make that claim.

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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 /

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. 

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Central Intelligence: Just another day in the Central Division

All five teams in action on Tuesday gained at least one point, further complicating a crowded standings picture

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

Just consider it another night inside the Central Division.

By now, the tightly contested nature of the division is no secret. Of the five NHL teams that have already clinched a playoff berth, two reside inside the Central. 

Four others are either atop the playoff cut line or within five points of it. 

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Central Intelligence: Minnesota's place in current playoff picture

Six of seven Central Division teams are gridlocked in the pursuit of the playoffs

by Kayleigh Jackson /

With less than a month until the advent of the NHL postseason, the playoff picture is starting to come into focus -- at least for a few teams. 

Those at the top of the standings haven't officially clinched a spot yet, although it's all but assured for the Vegases, Nashvilles and Tampa Bays of the world. Meanwhile, for some of the other high-level teams, postseason berths are expected, but the exact positioning may shuffle around as the wild card race heats up. 

So if the playoffs started right now, what would the bracket look like? And what would that mean for the Wild?

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Central Intelligence: Wild's East Coast success a rarity

Minnesota and St. Louis have accounted for half of Central Division's wins in New York area this season

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

The "California swing" is one of the most daunting road trips NHL teams face in a season. But don't overlook the "New York swing," which is also no picnic for visiting clubs. 

The Wild just completed its three games against New York-area franchises this week, finishing with a 3-0 record against the Islanders, Devils and Rangers. 

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Central Intelligence: Blackhawks' Crawford inches closer to return

But is it too little, too late for Chicago, which has reached the postseason nine-straight years?

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

The Chicago Blackhawks could be on the verge of getting a major piece of its puzzle back from injured reserve.

Goaltender Corey Crawford, who has missed much of the past two months with a head injury, returned to the team this week, joining teammates for morning skate in Arizona on Monday. 

When Crawford will return to game action is unknown, but getting back on the ice is certainly a positive step.

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Central Intelligence: All-Star Game will highlight division's star power

Five first-time All-Stars among Central's team this weekend in Tampa

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

The 2018 NHL All-Star Game takes place this weekend in Tampa, Florida, with the skills competition on Saturday and the game itself taking center stage at Amalie Arena on Sunday. 

In case you're not familiar, here are some of the particulars of the game:

  • Each of the NHL's four divisions will go head-to-head in a 3-on-3 format.
  • The Western Conference divisions will face off in a 20-minute, 3-on-3 mini game, followed by two Eastern divisions.
  • The two winners will then play with $1 million in prize money on the line.
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Central Intelligence: Klingberg a shining example for Dallas' blue line

Stars are in the playoff picture again, have a bunch of talented young defensemen on the way

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

One of the biggest reasons for the Dallas Stars' turnaround this season has been the play of defenseman John Klingberg.

The fourth-year Swede has played a sizable role in Dallas' fortunes in recent seasons, dishing out 48 assists and 58 points while posting a plus-22 two years ago when the Stars ran away with the Central Division title. Last season, despite scoring three more goals than he did the year before, Klingberg had 49 points and was a plus-2, as the Stars finished well out of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture in the Western Conference.

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