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Central Division Watch (February 22)

Nick Spaling, Rick Nash

Nashville Predators center Nick Spaling, left, reaches for the puck before scoring a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. Defending for Columbus is Rick Nash (61). (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)


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 (February 22 -28)

1. Detroit Red Wings (37-16-6 for 80 pts; 59 Games Played)

Current streak: Five wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. San Jose (Tuesday) and Dallas (Thursday), on the road vs. Buffalo (Saturday) and Los Angeles (Monday).

Thoughts: The Red Wings still trail the Vancouver Canucks by five points for the West’s top spot, but if they keep plugging along, they might be able to catch them.

2. Nashville Predators (31-20-8 for 70 pts; 59 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Columbus (Tues), home vs. Chicago (Thurs), @ Dallas (Sat) and home vs. Columbus (Sun).

Thoughts: All four games involve teams that are nipping at the Predators’ heels, which means they can either pull away a bit, stay in neutral with a .500 week or plummet into the muck depending how they play. The West is just a stressful place like that.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (29-23-6 for 64 pts; 58 GP)

Current streak: One win in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Nashville (Tues), home vs. Phoenix (Fri) and @ Nashville (Sun).

Thoughts: The Blue Jackets are red-hot right now, going 6-1-1 in their last eight games to really put themselves back into the thickening thick of things. Two games against the Predators should make for great tests for both teams.

5. St. Louis Blues (27-22-9 for 63 pts; 58 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Colorado (Tues) and three away games: vs. Vancouver (Thurs), Edmonton (Fri) and Calgary (Sun).

Thoughts: The Blues made some big trades last week (see you later, No. 1 draft pick), but they also won three of their last four games. Are they alive and or are they dead in the playoff race? How they fare on this Northwest tour will probably help to answer that question. Maybe.