Central Division Watch (March 15)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Central Division outlook (March 15 -March 21st)

1. Detroit Red Wings (41-20-8 for 90 pts; 69 Games Played)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Washington (Wednesday), @ Columbus (Thursday), @ Nashville (Saturday) and home vs. Pittsburgh (Monday).

Thoughts: There isn’t much for the Red Wings to play for, being that the Vancouver Canucks are way ahead of them for the top seed while Detroit holds a comfortable six-point lead over Chicago. At this point, it’s all about finishing strong and healthy.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (38-24-8 for 84 pts; 70 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Dallas (Thurs) and away vs. Phoenix (Sun).

Thoughts: Is there a single team in the West that wants to deal with the Blackhawks? They’re looking like a serious threat to the other contenders, as they showed by beating the San Jose Sharks handily last night. To contrast my previous point about Detroit, Chicago could actually make up some ground against the Red Wings being that they have three games left in the season.

3. Nashville Predators (35-24-10 for 80 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Los Angeles (Tues), vs. Boston (Thurs) and vs. Detroit (Sat) and one road game against Buffalo (Sun).

Thoughts: The Predators have 10 of their next 13 games at home, so they have a fantastic chance of making it into the top eight in the West by the end of the season. As you can see, those games won’t all be cakewalks, though. All four of the teams they play could very well make the playoffs too in 2010-11.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (32-27-9 for 73 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Boston (Tues), home vs. Detroit (Thurs), @ Minnesota (Sat) and home vs. New Jersey (Sun).

Thoughts: The Blue Jackets seem like they’re on the borderline between still being in the playoff picture and being out of it. Much like Nashville’s week, Columbus will face four potential playoff teams going forward. It’ll be interesting to see if they have a real chance by next week.

5. St. Louis Blues (31-29-9 for 71 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Anaheim (Wed), Los Angeles (Thurs) and San Jose (Sat).

Thoughts: The Blues won three of their last four games, but any final glimmer of hope should probably be gone after this week. The Ducks, Kings and Sharks are all likely to beat St. Louis – and they need to – so it’s likely they won’t end up with much more than 71 pts next week.

Bolts close gap on struggling Bruins in playoff race

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Well, that was quite a third period.

For the Boston Bruins, it was disastrous. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it propelled them to a critical victory in the playoff race.

Nikita Kucherov completed the hat trick with a pair of goals in the final period and Jonathan Drouin scored what would eventually be the winner, as Tampa Bay snapped its own three-game losing streak in a 6-3 victory, putting the Bolts within three points of the final wild card spot — held by the Bruins — in the Eastern Conference.

The Drouin goal — his 18th of the season but first since Feb. 19, a span of 13 games — is probably one Tuukka Rask would like back.

Drouin teed up the slap shot from the faceoff circle, beating Rask under the left arm.

And just like that, the Bruins have lost four consecutive games. On Saturday, they face the New York Islanders, another team looking to catch Boston in the wild card race.

Read more: Remember this stretch if Bruins settle for a wild card spot (or worse?)

The Islanders are only two points back of Boston.

Despite the win, there was bad news for the Lightning during this game, as defenseman Jason Garrison left with an injury.

From NHL.com:

The play occurred behind the Lightning goal, Garrison appearing to get his left leg rolled up from behind by a Bruin. Garrison had to be helped off the ice by Anton Stralman and Brayden Point and headed back to the Bolts’ locker room.

The team announced during the second intermission that Garrison sustained a lower-body injury. He did not return to the game.

Video: Ovechkin rocks custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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As promised, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin rocked a pair of custom skates in honor of Russian Heritage Night on Thursday.

On his right skate, he paid tribute to the United States with a custom design, and paid tribute to his home nation on his left skate while taking the pre-game warm-up prior to facing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He’ll be auctioning off the skates, as well.

From CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The skates were painted by noted custom shoe artists Nick Avery and Polo Kerber, whom Ovechkin personally selected. The skates feature the U.S. and Russia flags as well as the Capitol Building and Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Video: Crosby slash leaves Methot’s finger bloodied and injured (Updated)

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Sidney Crosby has made news lately for his goal scoring and his use of the stick.

He speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt the other night, and on Thursday he delivered a slash to Senators defenseman Marc Methot, who has since not returned to the game.

The slash rendered a finger on Methot’s left hand bloodied and injured. It certainly didn’t look good as Method (calmly) skated to the bench.

There was no call on the play.

Updated: Methot won’t return to this game.

Show me the money! Nylander sets Leafs rookie record with latest assist

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Toronto’s talented rookies were back at it again Thursday, as William Nylander and Auston Matthews combined to set up the Maple Leafs’ first goal versus the New Jersey Devils.

Nylander added the second assist on the power play goal, giving him 35 helpers on the season.

That’s significant for a couple of reasons: He extends his point streak to 10 games, which sets a new Leafs rookie record. And the assist reportedly secured him another entry-level bonus:

Not bad.