If the postseason started today, all five Central Division teams would make the playoffs

When I made my predictions for the regular season, I decide to go out on a limb and chose four Central Division teams to make the playoffs, meaning that the division would represent half of the Western Conference’s postseason squads. I actually might have been too conservative with my Central Division praise, though, being that each team would make the playoffs if they started today.

(John Manasso of NHL.com pointed this fact out on Sunday.)

For a quick look at where they rank in the top eight in the West, here’s a screen shot from NBC’s team standings. Click here for the full standings if you want to get a comprehensive look at the situation.

Let’s take a cursory glance at how each Central team is doing so far.

2. Chicago

The Blackhawks might not rank so high in the West much longer since they’re actually quite average (7-6-1). Their 14 games played is three more than any other team except for the wholly awful Anaheim Ducks (12 GP), so quite a few teams should leapfrog them.

4. St. Louis

The Jaroslav Halak experiment is passing with flying colors right now. The Blues are currently on a four-game winning streak, allowing only 17 goals in nine games played so far this season.

5. Detroit

The Red Wings have been dealing with injury problems so far, as Brian Rafalski, Johan Franzen and now both their goalies are dealing with bumps and bruises. Yet a resurgent Nicklas Lidstrom (11 points in nine games) and a talented, experienced group has this team starting strong.

6. Nashville

It really says a lot about this division that three of its teams make up the 4-5-6 spots. The Predators are sliding a little bit, as they’ve dropped two games and allowed two more goals than they produced, but they’re a scrappy bunch who should be in the playoff picture this season.

8. Columbus

The Blue Jackets are, by my estimation, the biggest surprise (and the most likely to flounder). They’ve allowed five more goals than they produced and are only 3-3 at home, yet who would have thought they’d be in front of Vancouver and San Jose so far this season?

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Chances are pretty strong that at least one – if not two – of these teams will fall out of the picture. I’d venture that the Blue Jackets are the most likely to plummet out of the playoffs while the Predators need to keep fighting to stick around.

Either way, the division is probably the best in the NHL right now. The last three Western Conference champions have come from this division, so maybe it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise.

Eichel makes everyone look silly, Varlamov gets the early hook

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You know, with Connor McDavid hogging so much attention, it’s about time that Jack Eichel provided us with another awesome goal.

That tally came at the Colorado Avalanche’s (and especially Semyon Varlamov‘s) expense as that was the Buffalo Sabres first shot of the game.

Patrick Roy apparently felt like this just wasn’t Varlamov’s afternoon, as Colorado’s head coach decided to pull him after Varly allowed two goals on as many shots. Evander Kane nabbed the other goal for Buffalo.

You can watch the goal in the video above, which reminds us that “Eichel Tower” might not be a unique pun.

Another shot of it:

Check out Kane’s goal, too:

To be fair to Varlamov, Calvin Pickard has already allowed a goal as well. The Sabres are currently off to a 3-0 lead, and maybe a small roll considering how well they played against Montreal on Friday?

NHL on NBC: Red Wings, Bruins fight for Atlantic positioning

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) keeps Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) from the puck in the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins are finding new ways to win these days, and while they might not be as obvious contenders as they once were, each team can still be dangerous.

Sunday’s NBC game proves enticing for plenty of reasons, yet the most obvious is that if the postseason began today, these two squads would face off in an intriguing first-round matchup.

The Bruins have taken the first two games between these teams in 2015-16, but they might be forced to face the Red Wings without crucial forward Patrice Bergeron, who may have been injured during an unlikely fight with Blake Wheeler.

Detroit features Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk as usual, although Dylan Larkin is a new, ultra-speedy forward who is worthy of plenty of attention in his own right.

While Jeff Blashill continues to establish himself following up Mike Babcock, Claude Julien recently hit a milestone with his 500th win and earned plaudits from CSNNE.com as one of the best coaches in the league.

(Speaking of milestones, Brad Richards is expected to play in his 1,100th game.)

Boston currently holds the second spot in the Atlantic with 66 points in 55 games played, but Detroit is right behind them with 65 in as many contests. With the Tampa Bay Lightning hovering nearby, each team likely recognizes this as an important game.

Goalie nods: Backups battle as Kinkaid faces Enroth

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth, of Sweden, deflects a shot off the stick of a Colorado Avalanche player in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings prefer to lean on workhorse goalies Cory Schneider and Jonathan Quick respectively, but Sunday presents a change of pace.

In the Kings’ case, Jhonas Enroth is playing in part because of (what Los Angeles hopes is) a minor injury to Quick.

It’s true that the under-sized goalie sports a mediocre 4-4-1 record, but he’s given the Kings legitimate chances to win games considering his impressive (especially for a backup) save percentage of .925. Perhaps he can earn a few more reps if he plays well in what may be a tight game?

Speaking of earning more reps, Keith Kinkaid must continue to work to prove that he’s able to make the jump from AHL goalie to at least an NHL backup. The Kings aren’t likely to make it easy for him, either.

Elsewhere …

Avalanche at Sabres: Semyon Varlamov vs. Robin Lehner

Bruins at Red Wings: Possibly Tuukka Rask vs. Petr Mrazek

Blues at Lightning: Best guess – Brian Elliott vs. Ben Bishop

Flyers at Rangers: Steve Mason vs. (possibly) Henrik Lundqvist

Fight video: Someone other than Evander Kane beats up Alex Petrovic

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Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.

Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.

(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)

Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …

It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.