Mere days ago, the Chicago Blackhawks appeared to have no shot at winning the Central Division; the St. Louis Blues had an almost double-digit lead in points over Chicago, and it seemed far more prudent to start thinking about a likely playoff series with the Colorado Avalanche.
Of course, things can change quickly in the NHL, and change they have. The Blackhawks sit only four points behind the Blues for the top spot in the Central, with the two still having a head-to-head matchup set for Apr. 6.
St. Louis has a slight edge in terms of remaining schedule favorability; Chicago has five home and six away games left, while the Blues have seven and five, respectively. The caliber of opponents for the two is roughly equivalent.
This entire discussion revolves around a previously unstated assumption that having the first seed as opposed to the second (and thus home ice through at least the first two rounds of the postseason) is a big deal. I don’t think this is necessarily true, at least from Chicago’s perspective. In each of the Blackhawks’ lengthy playoff runs in 2010 and 2013, the team was excellent in opposing teams’ arenas; they skated with the Stanley Cup on hostile ice both years and broke the Los Angeles Kings‘ (at the time) historic home winning streak while playing without Duncan Keith.
Home ice advantage is probably more important for the Blues, if for no other reason than their inability to accomplish anything of relevance in the postseason in recent years. This assertion is only further supported when conflated with St. Louis’ evident consistency of focus in 2013-14. Such has definitively not been the case for Chicago, where the team has seemingly been in a state of mental flux for several months.
Presence or lack of steady focus aside, it looks like the race for the Central Division crown may come down to the wire after all.