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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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    Video: Blandisi scores great between-the-legs goal vs. Flyers

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    What a story Joseph Blandisi‘s been for the New Jersey Devils this season.

    The 21-year-old played in his first NHL game on Dec. 11 and has stayed with the Devils ever since.

    It took him five games to pick up his first career point, but he’s done a whole lot more damage since then.

    Blandisi came into Saturday’s action with 10 points in his last 12 games and he added to that against the Flyers.

    He opened the scoring with this beautiful between-the-legs goal on goalie Michal Neuvirth (top of the page).

    That’s Blandisi’s fourth goal of the season.

    Some Twitter reaction to the goal:

    Bruins’ Bergeron ruled out for Saturday’s game against Wild

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    The Boston Bruins will be without center Patrice Bergeron in Saturday afternoon’s matinee against the Minnesota Wild.

    It’s unclear how Bergeron suffered the undisclosed injury, but there’s reason to believe it occurred after he dropped the gloves with Jets forward Blake Wheeler (above).

    He’s considered day-to-day at this point.

    Losing him for an extended period of time would be devastating for Boston.

    “You don’t like seeing your star players (fight), but you also understand that it’s an emotional game and that stuff happens and at one point a player says, ‘Enough is enough and I’m going to stand up for myself,’” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said after the game, as per the Boston Herald.

    “From what I gathered there was a lot of slashes behind the legs behind the play and stuff like that. He took things upon himself. As much as you don’t like it, you can’t tell him he’s not allowed. He’s a big boy and he can certainly make some decisions on the ice. And it’s not the first time that he’s fought. But I like the fact that he doesn’t fight much.”

    After this incident, there’s no doubt that the Bruins will tell Bergeron to keep his gloves on from now on.

    Jets will take one more crack at re-signing Andrew Ladd

    Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Ladd (16) and Blake Wheeler (26) celebrate Ladd's goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)
    Associated Press
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    Jets captain Andrew Ladd still doesn’t have a contract for next season and with the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaching, something’s gonna have to give.

    According to TSN’s Gary Lawless, the Winnipeg Jets will make one last push to sign the forward before making him available on the trade market.

    Ladd doesn’t want to leave and the team wants to keep him, but after Dustin Byfgulien got an extension earlier this month, there may not be enough money to go around.

    At one point, the Jets reportedly made Ladd a six-year offer worth $6 million per year, which he obviously didn’t accept.

    Can they top that? Time will tell.

    Waiting to trade Ladd is probably the smartest decision.

    Keeping the captain around would be great, but if the two sides can’t agree to a new contract, there’ll be no shortage of suitors for Ladd’s services.

    Lawless mentions the Penguins, Panthers and Blackhawks as potential landing spots for the 30-year-old.

    The Kings have also been mentioned as a potential destination for Ladd.

    Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to make some crucial decisions over the next few weeks.

    Flyers’ Neuvirth (lower body) will be between the pipes vs. the Devils on Saturday

    Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) of the Czech Republic stops a shot from the Dallas Stars in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
    Associated Press
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    Michal Neuvirth will make his first start of the month in Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.

    The 27-year-old missed five games with a lower-body injury. He was activated off the injured list earlier this week and served as Steve Mason‘s backup in Thursday’s game against Buffalo.

    Neuvirth has an 11-6-2 record with a 2.14 goals-against-average and a .933 save percentage in 2015-16.

    He’s put up some solid numbers against the Devils in his career. Neuvirth has a 5-2-4 record with 2.03 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage in games against New Jersey.

    Steve Mason, who’s coming off a 41-save performance in a win over Buffalo, hasn’t been as good against Saturday’s opponent.

    Mason is 0-7-0 lifetime against the Devils.

    Puck drop is at 1:00 p.m. ET.