Zetterberg, Toews, Weber, Oshie

One day, the Blackhawks are sitting atop the Central Division standings, at times boasting the most points in the NHL. The next, they wouldn’t even have home-ice advantage in the first round if the playoffs began at that moment.

It’s a difficult time to keep up with the constant shifts in the standings, but such is life in the competitive Central – which is currently on pace to make a bit of history while providing us fans with some entertaining hockey down the stretch.

This is the 13th season since the NHL went to six divisions and the current playoff format in 1998-99 (the 2004-05 season marked the lockout). In the 12 completed seasons, at least one division has sent four teams to the playoffs 10 times.

In a game Blackhawks fans likely won’t forget soon, Minnesota beat Dallas on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season to prevent the Pacific from becoming the first division to send all five teams to the postseason.

Essentially, the playoff format has three division winners and five “wild-card” teams. The only seasons one division didn’t claim three “wild-cards” were 2000-01 and 2005-06.

The 2008-09 season marked the one time two divisions accomplished the feat. The Atlantic and the Central, when Detroit (No. 1 seed), the ‘Hawks (4), St. Louis (6) and Columbus (8) qualified four of their five teams – the only time since current realignment the Central has done it.

Overall, a single division qualifying a quartet is quite common. The rarity lies in what the Central currently is on pace to accomplish – place all four teams within the top six seeds.

That has happened only once, when the Atlantic sent Pittsburgh (2), New Jersey (4), the Rangers (5) and Philadelphia (6) in 2007-08. Pittsburgh lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals before claiming the trophy the following season.

Detroit (1), St. Louis (4), the ‘Hawks (5) and Nashville (6) accompany division leaders Vancouver and San Jose in the top six, though the Central has four of the top five point leaders. The Sharks have 57 points to Nashville’s 60.

The logjam in the division puts an extra significance on the stretch run after the All-Star break. At this current pace, there’s the potential the result of any given game could put a team at the top of the division with a victory or keep it from a top-four seed and a home-ice advantage in the first round with a loss.

It’s not exactly the ideal situation for the Blackhawks, who embark on a nine-game road trip beginning next Tuesday in Vancouver and ending Feb. 18 in Columbus. Following that journey, the ‘Hawks finish with 10 of their final 23 games against division rivals, culminating with the season finale in Detroit on April 7.

The competitiveness in the Central makes from some entertaining hockey, but likely will cause plenty of stressful nights for the Blackhawks as they jockey for playoff positioning.

Unless, of course, they decided to make it easy by pulling away with the division crown. But when have the ‘Hawks ever made things easy?