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Central Division Watch (February 8)

Feb 8, 2011, 5:20 PM EDT

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Pavel Datsyuk

With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Central Division outlook (February 8-14)

1. Detroit Red Wings (32-15-6 for 70 pts; 53 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Nashville (Wednesday), road vs. Boston (Friday) and home vs. Boston (Sunday).

Thoughts: Pavel Dastyuk returned to the Red Wings lineup just in the nick of time, as Detroit had been shut out of two straight games. It’ll be interesting to see how they do in a back-to-back with the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins, the tail end of which will be NBC’s Game of the Week.

2. Nashville Predators (28-19-7 for 63 pts; 54 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Detroit (Wed), home vs. Colorado (Sat).

Thoughts: After winning three in a row, the Predators have gone 1-4-1 in their last six games. As great of a coach as Barry Trotz is, he can’t seem to get this group to avoid these hot and cold runs.

3. Chicago Blackhawks (27-22-4 for 58 pts; 53 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games: vs. Edmonton (Wed), vs. Dallas (Fri) and Phoenix (Sat).

Thoughts: The ‘Hawks seem like they are cracking a bit, but the good news is that this week will complete this challenging six-game road trip. They don’t have any other road runs longer than this one remaining. If Chicago can pull out two out of three this week, they should be pretty pleased.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (25-22-5 for 55 pts; 52 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: @ Pittsburgh (Tues), home vs. San Jose (Wed), home vs. Colorado (Fri), @ Dallas (Sun).

Thoughts: Even with a banged up Pittsburgh’s team, that’s still a tough back-to-back for the Jackets. This week could give a glimpse what this team is (or isn’t) capable of.

5. St. Louis Blues (23-20-8 for 54 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Florida (Tues), home vs. Minnesota (Fri), @ Minnesota (Sat), home vs. Vancouver (Mon).

Thoughts: It’s going to be a trying rest-of-February for the Blues. The good news is that the Wild will deal with the same back-and-back games as St. Louis, so that home-and-home series could be very big for both teams. The Blues should try to shoot for 5-6 out of 8 points this week.

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