Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 01/12/12 at 01:09 AM ET
from Scott Burnside of ESPN,
The Central Division is the toughest place to play hockey in the NHL right now. Apart from the embarrassing Columbus Blue Jackets, the four remaining teams should be playoff bound and the battle between Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago for the top spot should make for some compelling moments in the second half of the season. Getting home ice is always nice and winning the Central is a pretty big deal because it’s likely going to mean the first or second seed in the West and, more importantly, if you don’t win the Central there’s a pretty good chance the first round of the playoffs will feature a matchup of the second- and third-place teams. Right now that would mean Detroit and Chicago facing off in the first round. Not a bad way to start the postseason if you’re a fan but you can bet all three of Chicago, Detroit and the current Central Division leaders, St. Louis, would like to avoid that kind of road through the playoffs. The Blackhawks and Red Wings fancy themselves Stanley Cup contenders and have the pedigree to support that theory. The Blues, meanwhile, are trying to figure out if they can play with the big boys. Their turnaround under Ken Hitchcock has been exemplary and they are the top defensive team in the conference. The Hawks have defensive issues and a tendency to go completely sideways at times, while the Red Wings have struggled on the road as opposed to being dominant at Joe Louis Arena. Should be fun, right to the bitter end.
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