Handicapping the Central Division title race between Wild, Blackhawks

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The Minnesota Wild have a chance to increase an already solid lead for the Central Division crown if they can beat the Chicago Blackhawks in a game being televised on NBCSN tonight. (They couldn’t, as the Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime.)

Really, though, the next month presents quite the opportunity to fatten that edge.

With that being the only game on Wednesday, this seems like a worthwhile time to take a look at the bigger pictures facing each team. Here are the full Central Division standings heading into tonight’s game to add some context:

Central Division standings, now updated with Chicago’s OT win

1. Wild – 76 points in 53 games
2. Blackhawks – 71 points in 55 GP
3. Predators – 60 in 53 GP

Blues – 59 in 54 GP
Jets – 54 in 56 GP
Stars – 52 in 54 GP
Avalanche – 32 in 50 GP

Yes, there’s a chance a team like the Predators or Blues could figure into the conversation, but honestly even the Blackhawks have quite a bit of ground to make up to catch Minnesota.

Looking at their schedules really cements the notion that Bruce Boudreau’s crew could essentially silence the discussion with a strong month.

Opportunities ahead for the Wild

  • Tonight’s game against the Blackhawks begins an eight-game homestand for Minnesota. The Wild are less dependent upon winning at home (17-6-1 in Minnesota, 18-6-5 on the road), but it’s still a great chance to stock up points.

Minnesota will host the Blackhawks twice during this eight-game homestand and could also distance themselves from other Central opponents with a home contest against each of the Predators and Stars.

  • While February presents opportunities, the Wild start off March with more road games. From Feb. 28 – March 19, the Wild play eight of 11 contests away from Minny.
  • The Wild end the season with some solid chances to end the debate. They play five of six in Minnesota from March 21-30 and seven of nine at home from March 21 through April 4.
  • Finally, they end the season with two road games. Those games are against the Avalanche (April 6) and Coyotes (April 8), two teams that will likely have very little to play for.

Overall, it seems like a pretty beneficial schedule for the Wild’s aims. Let’s see how things look for Chicago.

Blackhawks are resilient so far on the road

  • The Blackhawks began this current six-game road trip with a 3-1 loss to the Sharks on Jan. 31. They’ve won the next three contests of that tour, so they’ve been carving out those difficult points.
  • This six-game trip ends with a back-to-back set on the weekend. Counting Wednesday’s game, Chicago faces five of their next six games away from the United Center.
  • As things get tougher for the Wild at the end of February/beginning of March, the Blackhawks enjoy a friendlier stretch. The Blackhawks play four in a row, five of six and six of eight at home from Feb. 23 through March 12.
  • After that, it’s back-and-forth. They play three games on the road (March 14-18), three at home (March 19-23), three on the road (March 25-29), two home games (March 31 and April 2) and then close things out with three away games. They face the Avalanche in that closing set, but also the Ducks and Kings.

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So, you can see that things go both ways, but the Wild generally seem to have a more favorable schedule. At least on paper.

With the additional benefit of two games in hand, one would say that the Wild have the edge … but it would be foolish to count out the Blackhawks.