The Central Division race is just getting started, with the Blackhawks, Blues and Stars closing out February all within two points of each other for the top spot. Let's review the month.
Chicago: After a hot month of January, the Blackhawks finished February with a 6-4-1 record, slightly taking their foot off the gas pedal, presumably to conserve some energy for the stretch run and postseason. They also lost Marian Hossa midway through the month, which threw a wrench in the lines. But once he, and Marcus Kruger, returns, there may not be a deeper forward group than the Blackhawks, who loaded up for another Stanley Cup run with the additions of Andrew Ladd, Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise at the trade deadline, along with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.
Colorado: The Avalanche dropped four straight games to kick off the month of February, but concluded by winning five of their last eight. They slipped to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, and they are by no means a lock to stay there. To make sure they do though, general manager Joe Sakic added Mikkel Boedker to an already-speedy forward group and Eric Gelinas for some depth on the blue line, which was a necessity if they plan on keeping up with teams in their division.
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
Dallas: It appeared that the Stars reverted back to their dominant ways after winning six of their first seven games in February, including important victories against Colorado, Minnesota, Chicago, Washington, and Nashville, but they ended on a sour note, picking up just one win in their final seven contests. They allowed at least three goals in six of those games, and in three of them they gave up six or more, watching their goals against average sink to 2.84, which ranks No. 23 in the league. In an effort to patch up a subpar defense, the Stars traded for defenseman Kris Russell and paid a large price to get him in giving up Jyrki Jokipakka, Brett Pollock and a second-round pick that could turn into a first-rounder if Dallas reaches the Conference Final and Russell plays in at least 50 percent of the games.
Minnesota: What a roller coaster February it was for the Wild, who fired head coach Mike Yeo after losing eight consecutive games, and 13 of 14 dating back to January. John Torchetti was named the interim coach, and they proceeded to win four straight games, scoring at least four goals in each of them. But then they followed it up with a three-game losing streak, ending the honeymoon phase. Still, after everything that's happened, the Wild find themselves only two points behind Colorado for the final wild card spot in the West with a game in hand. They're very much still in the thick of the playoff race and won't be an easy out if they continue to play the right way under Torchetti.
Nashville: The Predators are taking a nine-game point streak and a four-game winning streak into March, and have leapfrogged the Avalanche for the first wild card position in the West by five points with a game in hand. What's even scarier is that the Predators are controlling 52.6 percent of even-strength shot attempts, which ranks fifth in the league, but own a team shooting percentage of 6.82, which ranks in the bottom 10. That suggests puck luck hasn't been in their favor, and the tide could turn down the stretch. If Pekka Rinne has indeed turned back into the Pekka Rinne that made him a Vezina Trophy finalist last year, this is not a team to sleep on come April.
St. Louis: Injuries keep plaguing the Blues, yet they keep finding ways to overcome them. Once one guy returns, another goes down. And these aren't just depth players. They're important ones. In the past, it would have derailed them, but not this year. All season long it's been about Chicago and Dallas for the Central Division lead, but the Blues consistently hung around and have pulled themselves into that race with a solid February, going 8-4-1 despite losing Brian Elliott and Alex Pietrangelo. Jaden Schwartz, who missed the majority of the first half of the season with an ankle injury, returned to the lineup and has given this team some additional pop.
Winnipeg: The Jets made the right decision by dealing Andrew Ladd and retrieving assets for a team that's still thinking about the big picture. Marko Dano, a first-round pick in 2016 and a conditional third-round pick in 2018 which could turn into a second-rounder if the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup is a nice haul for a player that just reached the back-nine of the age of 30. Winnipeg now has two first-rounders for the second straight draft, barring a draft day trade.