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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

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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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    Caggiula expected to sign shortly, Canucks could be front-runners

    during the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships at Amalie Arena on April 9, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.The North Dakota Fighting Hawks defeated the Quinnipiac Bobcats 5-1 to win the national title. Getty
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    College free agent Drake Caggiula is expected to pick a team shortly, possibly even today.

    The University of North Dakota winger had originally shortlisted six teams, according to a report. Those teams were Philadelphia, Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Chicago and Buffalo.

    TSN’s Bob McKenzie said this morning on Edmonton radio that the Canucks are “maybe” the front-runners to land the 21-year-old. Vancouver signed Caggiula’s teammate, defenseman Troy Stecher, a couple of weeks ago, and Caggiula’s linemate, Brock Boeser, was drafted by the Canucks in the first round last year.

    Recently, Boeser told Postmedia that he was trying to convince Caggiula to sign with Vancouver, where there will be plenty of opportunities for young forwards in the next couple of years.

    If it’s not the Canucks, McKenzie said he’s heard the Oilers have a “puncher’s chance” of getting Caggiula.

    Vigneault will be behind the Rangers’ bench in 2016-17

    New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault runs a practice at NHL hockey training camp Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, in Greenburgh N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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    The New York Rangers may have been bounced in the opening round of the 2016 playoffs, but they aren’t looking to make a coaching change. In a phone interview with Montreal’s LaPresse newspaper, Alain Vigneault confirmed that he’ll be back behind the Rangers’ bench next season.

    “I’ve had discussions with the club’s front office and they told me that they wanted me to come back next season,” Vigneault told LaPresse (quotes have been translated by PHT).

    Vigneault and Rangers management will meet in Palm Springs next week to discuss what went wrong in 2015-16.

    Even though the season didn’t go the way the Rangers had hoped, Vigneault insists he was never worried about losing his job.

    “I don’t really worry about that stuff,” Vigneault said of the rumors surrounding his job security. “There’s 82 games in a season plus the playoffs and you can’t start thinking about your fate after each game. After a loss, you forget it and start thinking about the adjustments you need to make. In regards to our situation, we still managed to pick up 101 points this season. That’s a good season, but we still expected more from our team in the playoffs.”

    Like every off-season, there will be changes, but Vigneault isn’t expecting any major ones.

    “There’s definitely going to be changes. I don’t know if there’ll be big changes because today, it’s hard to make big changes. With the salary cap, it’s not realistic to think that way.”

    When pressed about potential changes, Vigneault wasn’t willing to elaborate.

    Vigneault also touched on the way Dan Boyle went after two reporters at the team’s year-end media availability. It’s safe to say he wasn’t thrilled about the way the whole thing went down.

    “It’s a lesson for me and our whole team,” added Vigneault. “It’s disappointing because Dan had a really nice career. He won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay, but all people will remember him for is this incident. What happened with him really surprised us. It’s too bad. I hope people will remember him for the career he had.”

    Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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    The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with one game on Friday night. You can catch tonight’s action via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

    Tampa Bay at NY Islanders (7:00 p.m. ET)

    The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Lightning lead the series 2-1.

    Here’s some relevant reading material you might enjoy:

    No hearings scheduled for Boyle on Hickey hit, or Hickey on Drouin hit

    Lightning take dramatic OT win vs. Islanders, go up 2-1 in series

    WATCH LIVE: Canada-USA (IIHF World Hockey Championship)

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    A huge tilt on day one of the World Hockey Championships, as Canada and the USA clash in Russia. You can watch the game online using the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

    Canada came away with a gold medal in last year’s tournament while the United States took home the bronze. Of course, each team’s roster changes significantly every year.

    The USA’s next game is tomorrow against Belarus. Canada will play Sunday against Hungary.