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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner and there is still a lot to be decided.

The Metropolitan Division is going to come right down to the wire as each team seemingly continues to win and put the pressure on the first place Capitals.

With just over two weeks remaining in the regular season, the playoff matchups for the first round of the NHL playoffs are still up in the air with only five points separating the top four teams in the Metro. Washington is in good position with a four-point cushion between themselves and the second place Pittsburgh Penguins.

With both teams meeting on April 1, however, the Caps are still a long way off from clinching the division and earning home ice in the first round.

RELATED: HOW THE CAPS BEAT THE RED WINGS

2018 NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF BRACKET PROJECTION

Eastern Conference (As of Friday 3/23):

1M Washington Capitals (93pts) vs. WC1 Philadelphia Flyers (88pts)
2M Pittsburgh Penguins (89pts) vs. 3M Columbus Blue Jackets (89pts)
1A Tampa Bay Lightning (106pts) vs. WC2 New Jersey Devils (82pts)
2A Boston Bruins (100pts) vs. 3A Toronto Maple Leafs (95pts)

Western Conference (As of Friday 3/23):

1C Nashville Predators (106pts) vs. WC1Anaheim Ducks (88pts)
2C Winnipeg Jets (98pts) vs. 3C Minnesota Wild (90pts)
1P Las Vegas Golden Knights (100pts) vs. WC2 Colorado Avalanche (88pts)
2P San Jose Sharks (93pts) vs. 3P Los Angeles Kings (89pts)

POWER RANKINGS: CAPITALS SLIDING DOWN THE HOME STRETCH

Washington has won only one out of four games against the Philadelphia Flyers this season. That's not an ideal first-round matchup for Washington, but there is still time for the Flyers to climb and overtake Columbus or Pittsburgh in the standings.

What seems unlikely to happen is for New Jersey or Florida to pass Philadelphia. While things remain close near the top of the standings, there seems to be a growing divide between the top-four teams in the Metropolitan Division and the two teams battling for the final remaining spot in the playoffs.

The Flyers may be in fourth place in the division, but they still boast a healthy six-point lead over the Devils who sit in the second wild card.

If we assume New Jersey and Florida will not be able to climb to any postseason position, but the second wild card, that makes the three most likely candidates to face Washington in the first round Pittsburgh, Columbus and Philadelphia.

2018 NHL EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PICTURE

Metropolitan Division
1. Washington Capitals (93 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (89 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
3. Columbus Blue Jackets (89 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

Atlantic Division
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (106 points, 74 GP, 45 ROW)
2. Boston Bruins (100 points, 72 GP, 42 ROW)
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (95 points, 74 GP, 37 ROW)

Wild Card:
WC1. Philadelphia Flyers (88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)
WC2. New Jersey Devils (82 points, 73 GP, 32 ROW)

Still in the Hunt:
Florida Panthers (81points, 72 GP, 34 ROW)

2018 NHL WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PICTURE

Central Division
1. Nashville Predators (106 points, 73 GP, 43 ROW)
2. Winnipeg Jets (98 points, 73 GP, 42 ROW)
3. Minnesota Wild (90 points, 73 GP, 38 ROW)

Pacific Division
1. Las Vegas Golden Knights (100 points, 74 GP, 44 ROW)
2. San Jose Sharks (93 points, 74 GP, 38 ROW)
3. Los Angeles Kings (89 points, 75 GP, 39 ROW)

Wild Card:
WC1. Anaheim Ducks (88 points, 74 GP, 34 ROW)
WC2. Colorado Avalanche (88 points, 74 GP, 39 ROW)

Still in the hunt:
St. Louis Blues (85 points, 72 GP, 34 ROW)

MORE CAPITALS: TOP 3 PLAYERS FROM CAPS-RED WINGS

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Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

With a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 3, the Capitals are right back in the series. Trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, the Caps will look to even up the series at 2-games apiece before returning to Washington for Game 5.

As the Caps take the ice for Game 4, you can be certain that Braden Holtby will be the man to lead the team in net. His stellar performance in Game 3 resolidified him as the team' starter and ended whatever goalie tandem there was between him and Philipp Grubauer.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 4

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 4 on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Columbus. Columbus currently leads the series 2-1.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blue Jackets
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE

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Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

As the postseason began, the refrain from Barry Trotz has been how confident he is in both netminders and that the decision on who will start would be on a game-by-game basis. That tone changed sharply on Wednesday in the wake of Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance.

On a conference call with the media, Trotz was asked Wednesday if Holtby would start Game 4.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said.

That type of clarity regarding who the Caps netminder is refreshing at this point as uncertainty has followed each of the first two games of the series.

The decision to sit Holtby in favor of Philipp Grubauer originally was not an easy one. After going through a tough six-week stretch from February to March, Holtby yielded the crease to Grubauer. The German netminder played well down the stretch and Trotz elected to stay with the hot hand to start the playoffs.

"[Holtby] was obviously probably a little disappointed but at the same time he's a total pro and our conversation was good," Trotz said. "The one thing that stands out to me, he says, if I get a chance to come back in the net I'll stop the puck. But I'm in. I understand and I'm ready if you need me."

Hotlby certainly was ready on Tuesday.

Grubauer performance admirably in Game 1 and Game 2, but he could not get the big save when the team needed it as Trotz lamented on Sunday.

The Caps got a number of those key saves from Holtby in Game 3, his first start of the series, as he turned aside 33 of the 35 shots he faced. To be fair, he was bailed out by the post four times in the game, but for the most part, it was a strong performance. When the backup plays well in a loss, it still generates questions on who will play going forward. When the starter comes back into the game and plays well, it erases all doubt as to who the starter will be going forward.

For the first time all series, the question of who will start is finally an easy one for Trotz to answer.

Trotz is also hopeful that Holtby has not only recovered from his struggles, but has improved his game because of them.

"You see it around the league with top goaltenders, they have some of these periods where they have to reset or refine themselves a little bit because it tests you," Trotz said. "This league test you all the time. It changes all the time and you have to change with it a little bit. I think it forced [Holtby] to move forward a little bit, rethink some things and recalibrate his game to the game that's being played in the National Hockey League right now.

"I think it's been a good process for him. I think it's just going to make him a more complete goaltender going forward, a more complete person going forward. It says a lot about  Braden."

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