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.

Auston Matthews’ 33rd goal includes a dash of comedy (Video)

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This wouldn’t have been worth a chuckle if not for the correction. (Well, maybe a chuckle at Auston Matthews‘ expense.)

On the 33rd goal of his brilliant rookie season, Auston Matthews made it 2-0 for Toronto on the power play. Crusty “act like you’ve been there” types might grumble that he actually celebrated before a goal really happened, only to tap it in for real the second time around. The rest of us, again, get a mild chuckle.

William Nylander‘s pass was nothing to laugh at, however. That one just gets a big thumbs up.

Hnnngmgghh indeed.

That goal could end up being key as the Blue Jackets quickly scored to start the second period, shrinking Toronto’s lead to 2-1 on Wednesday.

Video: Leafs’ Carrick delivers thunderous hit on Blue Jackets’ Anderson

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Both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs have motivation to win their Wednesday game, but the Maple Leafs need it more.

So far, it shows, too.

The Maple Leafs have raced off to a 2-0 lead, with Auston Matthews scoring his 33rd goal of the season. If generating such offense didn’t highlight the urgency, Connor Carrick‘s huge hit on Josh Anderson makes a compelling argument. Witness that big impact in the video above.

There was also another high-impact moment when Nick Foligno went crashing into the boards:

Ouch, Blues consider Paul Stastny out week-to-week

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The St. Louis Blues announced that Paul Stastny is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during last night’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, head coach Mike Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious.

There are only about three weeks left in the regular season, so it’s tough to tell if “week-to-week” would mean that the Blues will be without Stastny for any playoff time.

With Stastny out for an expended period of time and other injuries affecting Blues forwards, it sounds like Nail Yakupov gets another chance to prove himself:

Stastny generated 18 goals and 40 points in 66 games so far this season. He has played more of a defensive role this season (46.2 offensive zone start percentage after being closer to 50 earlier in his Blues days) and has been impressive in the dot, winning 53.8 of his faceoffs.

WATCH LIVE: Islanders at Rangers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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A night after a feisty matcuhup with the Devils, the Rangers host an even bigger rival in the Islanders at Madison Square Garden for Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN.

As nasty as Tuesday’s contest got at times, this one means more.

While the Rangers seem pretty safely seated as the East’s first wild card, the Islanders stand three points behind the Maple Leafs for the final spot in the conference. They’ve seen other bubble teams stumble, so this is their chance to close in on Toronto in what might be a shrinking field of contenders.

Spiting the Islanders might just give the Rangers a little extra life on back-to-back nights … especially since their fans would probably let them have it if they sleepwalk through this one.

It should be a fun, physical and dramatic one on NBCSN. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.