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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    Predators survive Blues’ big late push to win Game 1

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    The Nashville Predators’ 4-3 Game 1 win against the St. Louis Blues makes it difficult to use “perfect.”

    You could get away with using that word, mind you, as the Predators followed up their surprising sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks by going up 1-0 against the Blues in St. Louis. Still, the ride was so bumpy in the third period, it’s probably wiser to focus on the fact that Nashville is unbeaten.

    Because, yikes, that third period was a roller coaster for Nashville.

    via Natural Stat Trick

    P.K. Subban scored a goal and two assists in the first 40 minutes to help the Predators bring a 3-1 lead into the final frame. The Blues absolutely dominated play in the third, however, briefly tying the game as they put immense pressure on Pekka Rinne & Co.

    Ultimately, the Predators received a game-winner from an unlikely source in Vernon Fiddler, gaining a 1-0 series edge.

    Even so, few will talk about “mystique” after that shaky finish.

    For one thing, both Rinne and Jake Allen allowed goals that they’d like to forget. Also, both squads experienced lopsided periods; Nashville dominated shots in the second (15-8) while the Blues almost doubled-up the Preds in the third (11-6).

    Nashville also seems likely to play without rising rookie Kevin Fiala, who was hospitalized after an absolutely horrifying crash into the boards.

    It was a weird and often wild – sometimes nasty – contest, with the Predators ultimately coming out on top. There’s plenty of intrigue heading into Game 2, which airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)

    WATCH LIVE: Second round begins with Predators – Blues, Oilers – Ducks

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    Update: With both games likely to run simultaneously, note that Ducks fans can watch on NBCSN in the Anaheim market while the game is also available via streaming links below.

    In addition to that, Ducks – Oilers is slated to begin on NHL Network.

    This tweet explains it in additional detail.

    ***

    The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.

    We start with a battle of the hottest goalies in the postseason so far as Jake Allen and the Blues host Pekka Rinne and the Predators. The duo of Game 1’s wraps up when Connor McDavid and the Oilers take on Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks.

    Here’s what you need to know:

    Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

    Time: 8 p.m. ET

    Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

    Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks 

    Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

    Network: NBCSN (Stream online)

    Video: Austin Watson takes a shot at Vladimir Tarasenko

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    The St. Louis Blues and their fans showed class in how they reacted to Kevin Fiala‘s very, very scary injury during Game 1.

    Still, these are two physical Central Division rivals, so you expect to see some nastiness here and there between the Blues and Nashville Predators.

    One moment that will likely divide onlookers came when Predators tough guy Austin Watson got a shot in on Vladimir Tarasenko, at least briefly hurting the world-class sniper.

    It’s unlikely to be a big deal since Tarasenko seems to be OK, but there may be some debate here. On one hand, there are those who believe Watson got away with a cheap shot; on the other, some seem to imply that there was some embellishment. Maybe it’s even a combination of the two?

    Either way, the Predators enter the third period up 3-1, so St. Louis will likely ask Tarasenko to focus on getting revenge by scoring goals.

    Blues just have no answer for P.K. Subban right now

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    In the first round, P.K. Subban was dominant against the Chicago Blackhawks, but mainly if you look at “fancy stats.” There’s nothing wrong with two assists in that sweep, but those aren’t jaw-dropping numbers.

    You don’t need to dig deep to see his impact on Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues. A mere glance at the box score – or a chance to see his blistering shot – and you’ll realize that the Nashville Predators defenseman has been a nightmare for Jake Allen & Co. so far on Wednesday.

    Subban seemingly scored his first postseason goal with the Predators to make it 1-0, but Colin Wilson was actually credited with the tally.

    No bother there. Subban gave the Predators a crucial lift shortly after player resumed following Kevin Fiala‘s horrifying injury, getting that first Predators playoff goal with another booming shot.

    Subban managed to draw a slashing penalty on Scottie Upshall and also sent another huge shot to set up a James Neal goal. There’s no mistaking that P.K. has played a huge role in Nashville going up 3-1 so far; the Blues need to find some answers, and fast.