With Team Chara capping off the All-Star weekend festivities with a 12-9 win over Team Alfredsson, the NHL All-Stars will be heading home to their respective teams with one goal in mind:
Win hockey games.
Many of these All-Stars will be putting in their effort to clinch a top-three playoff spot in either the Western or Eastern Conference–others will fight to make the postseason at any seed.
With roughly 30-35 games remaining in the season, as well as the trade deadline approaching, look for each team in playoff contention to push the limits of every game.
Continue reading to find out who the favorites are and the possible runner-ups for the division titles.
Look for the beastly Boston Bruins to capture the Northeast Division Title by seasons' end as they currently lead the division with a record of 31-14-2.
The Bruins lead the second-place Ottawa Senators by four points and also have five games in hand.
Expect the Bruins' depth to be the leading factor for their continued success the rest of the season. Seven players have already posted 30 or more points so far in the 2011-12 campaign.
Centermen Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin both lead the team in points with a total of 43. Forwards David Krejci and Milan Lucic are not far behind with a total of 38 and 37 points respectively.
The Bruins look solid in the net between goaltenders Tim Thomas and Tukka Rask.
Thomas has been able to post a 1.82 GAA and a .938 PCT and a record of 20-9-0. The young Rask has also posted respectable numbers with a GAA of 2.12 and a .933 PCT with a record of 11-5-2.
However, do not expect the Ottawa Senators to be that far behind after an electric All-Star weekend in the Canadian capital.
Look for long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson to pick up his play and help his team continue their first-half success.
Leading the Senators in points is center Jason Spezza. He is having his best season since 2007-08–posting 20 goals and 30 helpers for a total of 50 points in 52 games played this season.
The New York Rangers will likely hold their first-place position by seasons' end as their team defense has lead the league almost all season long. The Rangers currently have let in the least amount of goals with a total of 96 through 47 games.
The Rangers' "defence first" mindset will likely carry the team to a first-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
The Rangers can also thank goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and backup Martin Biron.
Each goaltender has posted great numbers this season.
So far during the 2011-12 campaign, Lundqvist has posted a 1.87 GAA and also a .937 PCT along with a record of 22-10-4. Biron has also answered the bell with a 1.88 GAA and .927 PCT with a record of 9-2-0.
The Philadelphia Flyers will also be looking to take the first-place spot in the Atlantic Division.
However, with the amazing team play of the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers will be the likely candidate for the second-place position.
They will be followed by the surging Pittsburgh Penguins, who will be without star-forward Sidney Crosby for a while with what's known to be a neck injury.
Look for the Flyers to acquire a defenseman before the trade deadline to help out the back-end. They will play without veteran, Chris Pronger, for the rest of the season.
The Southeast Division is lucky that at least one team can make the playoffs.
If the Florida Panthers have any chance of taking first spot they will have to get the extra points in overtime. They have lost a league-high 11 games after regulation.
The Capitals' performance has been elevated by 24-year-old center, Nicklas Backstrom, who is currently out with a head injury. Backstrom has not played since January 3rd.
Before suffering the injury, Backstrom recorded eight points in five games. Whenever the center is healthy and ready to play again, look for him to pick up where he left off.
Also, expect All-Star Alexander Ovechkin to continue his great play after he serves two more games of a suspension.
Before the suspension, Ovechkin put up 14 points in 13 games.
The Vancouver Canucks stumbled out of the gate this 2011-12 NHL season, but the team has since found their way back with a record of 30-15-4. Now, the Canucks are where they should have been all season long:
With the way the Canucks are playing, along with the significant drop of the Minnesota Wild, expect Vancouver to clinch the top spot easily by seasons' end.
The main reason for the Vancouver success has been the Swedish duo: Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Together they have posted 51 and 52 points respectively.
Vancouver can also thank its overall depth–nine players have recorded at least 25 or more points so far this season.
If the Vancouver Canucks want to capture the division title, all they need to do is keep winning hockey games.
Expect the Minnesota Wild to continue their drop in the standings as they are without their captain and leading playmaker due to an upper body injury.
In the meantime, expect to see the Calgary Flames make a push for the playoffs. That will lead them into second place in the Northwest Division.
General Manager Jay Feaster has already said on numerous occasions that the Calgary Flames will be looking to make a push for the playoffs.
They have recently acquired sniper Mike Cammalleri from the Montreal Canadiens. Expect to see Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla start lighting the lamp in Calgary very soon as chemistry within the lines starts to click.
The San Jose Sharks have been having a fairly consistent season thus far–posting winning records at home and on the road. Expect much of the same when the second half of the season starts tomorrow.
The team has been able to put up a record of 27-14-6 and lead the division in front of the second-place Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks also have three games in hand on the Kings; look for San Jose to break away from the rest of the division by seasons' end.
The Sharks can thank two pairs of forwards for the success this year.
The first pair of players, leading the team in points, is veteran duo Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. The forwards have put up 38 and 36 points respectively in 47 games this season.
The young-gun duo, All-Star Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, have posted 36 and 34 points thus far.
Each of the four forwards above have also posted positive plus/minus ratings which shows that the Sharks defensive game is another factor for their place in the Pacific Division.
The Los Angeles Kings are lucky that overtime loses only count as one point, as the team is second in the league for most overtime loses with 10.
Expect the Los Angeles Kings to barely hold on to second place in the Pacific Division despite the third-place Dallas Stars having two games in hand and only six points to make up behind the Kings.
If the Kings can gather a few more wins in overtime before the regular season is over, they will be in decent shape for a playoff run.
The uprising of the young St. Louis Blues has lead to an extremely tight Central Division–making it by far the most competitive division this season.
Take a look at the current standings:
- Detroit Red Wings 33-16-1 67 points
- St. Louis Blues 29-13-7 65 points
- Nashville Predators 30-16-4 64 points
- Chicago Blackhawks 29-15-6 64 points
- Columbus Blue Jackets 13-30-6 32 points
It's safe to say that the Columbus Blue Jackets are definitely out of the race, but the other than that, everyone is alive.
The Detroit Red Wings have lots of experience and a team built strong in all aspects of the game. They will squeeze in to take the top spot in the Central Division.
Expect veterans Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom to lead their team to the division title, as well as goaltender Jimmy Howard, who has been having an exceptional season in the crease.
Datsyuk leads the team with 14 goals and 39 assists for a total of 53 points in 49 games played so far this season.
Captain Nicklas Lidstrom has been in the league long enough to know what his team needs to clinch the top spot in a tight Central Division.
Howard leads the NHL with 30 wins.
He has also posted an overall record of 30-11-1 to go along with a 2.03 GAA and a .924 PCT. The net-minder is on pace for a career year in all categories.
With the top four teams being so close to each other in the Central Division, it's hard to predict the final outcome.
One thing is for certain.
Every other team will dread playing any of these teams for the remainder of the season.
If the 2012 NHL Playoffs were to start today, here would be the first round matchups:
1. New York Rangers vs 8. New Jersey Devils
2. Boston Bruins vs 7. Florida Panthers
3. Washington Capitals vs 6. Ottawa Senators
4. Philadelphia Flyers vs 5. Pittsburgh Penguins
1. Detroit Red Wings vs 8. Minnesota Wild
2. Vancouver Canucks vs 7. Los Angeles Kings
3. San Jose Sharks vs 6. Chicago Blackhawks
4. St. Louis Blues vs 5. Nashville Predators
These first round matchups are bound to change as the second half of the NHL season starts up again tomorrow.
Expect many headliner games, as well as blockbuster deals, before the trade deadline on February 27, 2012.