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Playoff Preview: Central Division

Not sure how to make heads or tails of a playoffs without Detroit in the mix? We can help with this Central Division Primer.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild
While Detroit has been away, the old Central Division gang has still been feeling the love for one another.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

With the Detroit Red Wings not partaking in the playoffs this year for the first time in 25 years, a lot of fans might not know what to do with the playoffs because they never learned, or simply forgot. Don’t worry, though; Winging it in Motown has you covered for what to do as a Detroit fan with a Red Wing-less playoffs. Put whatever show you were hate-watching on hold, because its void is going to be filled by these two series as we start our playoff coverage with our old “friends” in the Central Division.

The Central Division showcases what should be two high quality match-ups between the Blackhawks and Predators on one side and the Wild and Blues on the other. The Metro overtook the Central’s “toughest division” title for the first time since realignment, but these teams are all here and will be ready to throw down, whether they are legitimate cup contender or they would just relish knocking each other out.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

The Match-Up: For the first time since playoff realignment in 2014, the Chicago Blackhawks have won the Central Division. You read that right; Chicago has not finished better than third in the Central since Detroit was in it. However, Chicago rolled through this season and eventually overtook the Wild for the Division lead. They did this despite lukewarm team statistics, including being the 12th best team in Corsi-for %, controlling 50.4% of shots. The core of this team has once again had strong seasons and the Blackhawks are the same well-oiled machine they’ve been for years.

In the other corner is the Nashville Predators, who finished the season a full nine wins behind the Blackhawks. That may seem like the recipe for a series sweep, but the plucky Preds have recent history as giant killers; last year they took down the Pacific’s top-seeded Anaheim Ducks. On the flip side, this year’s incarnation of the Preds seems to lack some of the swagger of previous years despite the addition of Subban in the off-season. The Preds under Coach Laviolette have been trying to evolve away from the defense-first style of Barry Trotz, so they aren’t the same shut-down team the Wings played in the 2012 playoffs, but this series will show if Nashville can get enough up and down the lineup to hang with Chicago’s talent.

Why Wings fans should care: It’s the Chicago Blackhawks, who copped the Wings’ style and now play to control the puck with great forwards and defensemen and a goalie who’s probably HOF consideration will create a lot of controversy over his skill vs the skill of the team in front of him in a decade. Chicago plays the game “the right way” and can dominate the ice. They’re one of the two closest teams to the Wings of old, so the series could be just the trip down memory lane that you need after you are tired of re-watching the Wings’ playoff heroics on youtube.

Also, this year’s Predators are a classic underdog. They don’t like the Blackhawks and they’re out-gunned. They’re going to have a chip on their shoulder after being ousted by Chicago in 2015. The Predators are going to play Chicago hard, wins column be damned, and grudge matches are always fun to watch.

You might cheer for Chicago if: You’re not picky about exactly which team in red is playing great puck possession hockey; You watched Wrestlemania the other weekend and it brought flashbacks of Weber slamming Zetterberg’s head into the boards.

You might cheer for Nashville if: You love 90’s kids sports movies where the plucky underdogs call on the power of friendship to beat the technically superior team; You will Bleed Red Forever(tm) and your hatred of the Blackhawks will outlast the heat death of the universe.

Prediction: I want the Hawks to lose. I want every Blackhawks fan to have to quit watching hockey early so they can go back their identity crisis over just what in the name of God they are supposed to do now that the Cubs are a winner. PK Subban is also such a fun player to watch, and the rest of the Predators lineup, sans James Neal, is pretty inoffensive. Nashville will make a series of it against their rival, but the Hawks are a legitimate cup contender this year. Hawks in 6.

Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

The Match-Up: Quick question: Which team had the most potent offense this season? It’s the Pittsburgh Penguins, but after that it’s the Minnesota Wild! Yes, they lead the West in goals for and goal differential. The annual Minnesota Swoon struck again this season, this time in March, where they dropped 12 of 16, which made most critics write them off as cup contenders. But the Wild righted the ship over the past few weeks and they look to be back on track. Their roster is extremely deep with firepower on every line and very mobile defense. The big question for them will be whether Devan Dubnyk has anything left in the tank after another long season.

The Blues had a bit shakier of a season, struggling through much of December and January before finally getting on track with the dismissal of Ken Hitchcock and the appointment of former Minnesota Wild Coach Mike Yeo. Yeo loves to play some defense-first, late-Babcock style hockey, but the Blues have too much firepower in their prime to get pigeonholed into playing boring hockey. They’re once again trying to win Lord Stanley’s mug in the quasi-cup contender window that never seems to end in Missouri, and unlike all the other times they’ve said it, this year could be the year!

Why Wings fans should care: If you are looking for a team to bandwagon on for the playoffs, it is so, so easy to transition in with the Wild fans. They play all of our old legitimate rivals, they hate Chicago, Colorado, and St. Louis, and they now play a style reminiscent of the Wings’ glory days. Whereas Nashville is stuck in the nebulous space between being a shutdown-style team and cycling puck-possession team, Minnesota has successfully made that transition. You also get to say “Nino Niedereiter” more often.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues have Vladimir freaking Tarasenko. Simply put, Tarasenko is one of the most entertaining players in the league. St. Louis also still plays that mix of rough hockey and creative offense, so they have that classic old-school vibe. St. Louis doesn’t care for the Wild too much either, having been ousted by them two years ago when the Blues captured the regular season division title, so this one should shape into a good grudge match, much like the Chicago-Nashville series.

You might cheer for Minnesota if: You enjoy watching a team roll four lines in the same way you love watching waves slowly pound a rocky shore into oblivion; You revel in St. Louis’s exercise in futility to win a Stanley Cup and want to watch them continue beating their head against the wall over and over and over. And over.

You might cheer for St. Louis if: You love Russian superstars; You are like my friend and get weirdly defensive about Minnesota calling itself the Land of 10,000 Lakes as if it is an affront to Michigan and its own lakes.

Prediction: This one will be a good series and should compete with Pittsburgh-Columbus for entertainment value. Unless, you know, one of them goes nuts and sweeps the other out. This is the NHL, after all. St. Louis has Tarasenko, but Minnesota just has too deep of a roster and it will be the difference-maker in a long series where fatigue will set in. Also, I want to make the short drive to see a cup parade this year, dammit. Wild in 7.

Give us your thoughts in the comments and tell us how wrong we are!