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Weekend preview: Playoff positioning still to be decided

A quick look ahead at some of the narratives at play this weekend…

Plenty to still be decided

OK, so 15 of the 16 playoff spots have been clinched — and Dallas can make it 16 tonight with a win against St. Louis — but that doesn’t mean this weekend will be lacking for action. Let’s begin with the Central Division.

Standings heading into Friday night’s play

source:

Chicago’s locked into third place, so the ‘Hawks are set to play either St. Louis or Colorado in the opening round. St. Louis has two games remaining (Friday in Dallas, Sunday versus Detroit), as does Colorado (Friday in San Jose, Sunday in Anaheim) and it’s worth noting the Avs hold the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker over St. Louis, should the two finish even on points.

What else can happen this weekend?

— Montreal and Tampa Bay, already locked into facing each other in Round 1, can decide who gets home ice advantage. Montreal is one point up on Tampa Bay but the Bolts have a game in hand; the Habs play their final game of the year on Saturday against the Rangers, while the Bolts play Columbus on Friday and the Caps on Sunday.

— In the Metropolitan Division, there’s still plenty to be decided. Pittsburgh and the Rangers are locked in as the N0. 1 and 2 seeds, but Columbus could overtake Philly for third spot. The Flyers and Jackets head into this weekend’s action both with 80 games played and 91 points (Philly holds the slightest edge in the ROW tiebreaker, 37 to Columbus’ 36). So playoff positioning really will come down to what both teams can do this weekend, as the Flyers play the Pens on Saturday and ‘Canes on Sunday; the Jackets have Tampa Bay tonight and Florida on Saturday.

— Speaking of Philly and Columbus, let’s not forget that either one could be overtaken by Detroit for the first wild card spot. The Red Wings are also on 91 points and also have two games left to play (against Carolina and St. Louis)…though it’s worth noting both the Flyers and Jackets hold the ROW tiebreaker over Detroit.

— Finally, there’s the not-s0-small matter of the Presidents’ Trophy and first overall seed in the Western Conference. The Bruins are in the driver’s seat for the regular season crown, with 115 points and two games left to play, but Anaheim is also in the mix with 112 points and two games left.

The Ducks are also in the best position to finish atop the Western Conference, but could still be caught by either Colorado or St. Louis.

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    Flames keep showing life, Stars stumble once again

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    If you think the Dallas Stars are struggling because of defense more than anything else, then you’ll make sure to keep the video above “on file.”

    There Kari Lehtonen was, helpless on a 2-on-0 rush for the Calgary Flames, which Johnny Gaudreau finished with calm and ease. For some, that goal is the symbol of the Stars’ season.

    Either way, it was a painful goal in the Flames’ 2-1 win against the Stars. Calgary won despite Dallas firing 30 shots on goal versus the Flames’ 20.

    One team climbing, the other stumbling

    With that, the Flames are now on a four-game winning streak. Since falling to 5-10-1 on Nov. 12, the Flames have gone 9-3-1 in their last 13 games, pushing them to 14-13-2 overall. Gaudreau coming back is the icing on the cake after Chad Johnson really took charge of the Flames’ top job.

    During a similar span, the Stars can’t seem to get it together. Dallas stood at 6-6-3 after beating the Oilers 3-2 on Nov. 11. They’re now 10-11-6, essentially standing in place as a .500 team.

    Dallas can’t seem to get momentum going, a thought that might have left them envious of the team on the other end of the ice on Tuesday.

    Canadiens are facing some turbulence (and mostly passing the test)

    ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 6: Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues checks Tomas Plekanec #14 of the Montreal Canadiens at the Scottrade Center on December 6, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
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    The Montreal Canadiens aren’t in crisis mode, but as far as this so-far outstanding 2016-17 season goes, they are finally facing some adversity.

    Alex Galchenyuk, one of their most promising young players, is out indefinitely. There are murmurs that captain Max Pacioretty isn’t getting along with head coach Michel Therrien.* Tuesday presented a body blow or two to boot.

    For one thing, the Canadiens gave up a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues in overtime. Jaden Schwartz grabbed an assist and scored the game’s last two goals, including the OT-winner:

    Losing to a contender like the Blues, especially while still grabbing a “charity point,” isn’t that big of a deal. A possible David Desharnais injury makes things a little dicey, however:

    Really, though, it’s not all that bad for Montreal. They managed a 2-2-1 mark during a five-game road trip heavy on quality opponents.

    Also: six of their next seven games come at home, where they’re 12-1-1. So things will look brighter soon enough.

    Still, with some injuries and a big road trip to end 2016 and start 2017, there may be some moments where Montreal looks vulnerable.

    Ultimately, fighting through stretches like these could very well benefit the Habs later on.

    * – Ah, the old standby: “Player X isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with Therrien.”

    From the Blues’ side:

    Ristolainen, Kane, O’Reilly push Sabres past McDavid and the Oilers

    EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 16:  Rasmus Ristolainen #55, Matt Moulson #26, Sam Reinhart #23, Kyle Okposo #21 and Ryan OÕReilly #90 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers on October 16, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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    On Tuesday, it wasn’t just about Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid. Instead, it was a clash between a fleet of young scorers who were in their prime, with the Buffalo Sabres coming up on top against the Edmonton Oilers.

    In particular, high-scoring defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, power forward Evander Kane and two-way center Ryan O'Reilly made the difference in Buffalo’s 4-3 overtime win.

    Ristolainen’s first goal of 2016-17 was a big one, as it clinched the contest in OT:

    Evander Kane scored two goals of his own, including one in the dying seconds of regulation to allow Buffalo to get a standings point (and then a second) in the first place.

    Kane finished with two goals, O’Reilly generated two assists and Ristolainen managed a one-goal, two-assist performance.

    It would be wrong to say that the marquee names didn’t show up at all. McDavid generated two assists and Eichel also nabbed a helper.

    You’d be correct in saying that other young players stole the show, though, and the Sabres were the biggest beneficiaries.

    Video: Brent Seabrook shaken up after awkward fall

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    It wasn’t nearly as scary as the falls suffered by Travis Zajac or Philip Larsen, but the Chicago Blackhawks are still holding their breath when it comes to defenseman Brent Seabrook.

    As you can see from the video above, Seabrook was tripped up by Jordan Martinook of the Arizona Coyotes during a simple puck battle. Seabrook was shaken up after falling awkwardly on that play.

    At the moment, it’s unclear if this will be an ongoing issue or if the Blackhawks avoided a costly injury.

    Martinook was not penalized.

    CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers notes that Seabrook wasn’t out to begin the third period. So far, not so good.

    The Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-0, so the silver lining for Chicago is that they won.