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Capitals’ playoff opponent watch: Bruins slide to wild card, but will they stay there?

Capitals’ playoff opponent watch: Bruins slide to wild card, but will they stay there?

In the final stretch of the season, it’s time to start projecting possible first round matchups for the Caps.

Washington has given itself some breathing room away from the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they can’t seem to shake the Columbus Blue Jackets who remain hot on their heels for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. As of now, however, the Caps remain in first place in the division which would mean a first-round matchup against the second wild card team.

As of right now the Caps would be playing: The Boston Bruins (86 points)

Caps’ record vs. Bruins this season: 2-0-0 (1 game remaining on April 8)

Boston slid out of third place in the Atlantic, but they did manage to stay in a playoff spot with two wins to end a four-game skid. This is not a wild card team to sleep on given that they boast one of the top offensive players and agitators in the NHL in Brad Marchand and a top netminder in Tuukka Rask. There is a concern, however, that Rask has been overworked this season and that is a sentiment shared by Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. As good as Marchand is, Boston won’t be going anywhere without Rask. Does he have enough left in the tank to lead the Bruins into the postseason and if he does, how much more will he have left for the playoffs?

RELATED: As the season winds down, Ovechkin is ramping up

Other possible playoff opponents

Columbus Blue Jackets (105 points)

Caps record vs. Blue Jackets this season: 2-1-1 (1 games remaining on April 2)

Columbus and the Caps battled in a tight game over the week that saw the Caps earn a narrow 2-1 shootout win. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is making a case for the Vezina or the Hart with this play. He has a .935 save percentage and 1.97 GAA and is more than capable of leading the Blue Jackets deep into the playoffs. But, as Columbus continues winning, the battle for the Metro is becoming more and more of a two-team race. Pittsburgh, currently five points back of the Caps, would have to pass both Columbus and Washington for a Caps-Jackets first-round matchup. That seems unlikely at this point.

Pittsburgh Penguins (103 points)

Caps record vs. Penguins this season: 2-0-2

With the Caps and Columbus separating themselves from the Penguins, the race to win the Metro has suddenly become the race to avoid a first-round matchup with Pittsburgh. While the Caps have earned at least a point in each game against the Penguins this season, you can go ahead and throw the records out when it comes to these two teams. While this may not be the matchup you want to see in the first round, it perhaps would not be the worst thing in the world for Washington. The Penguins are not a healthy team right now as they are dealing with several injuries to key players including Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Would the Caps be better off getting Pittsburgh early while they are still getting healthy?

Toronto Maple Leafs (87 points)

Caps’ record vs. Leafs this season: 1-1-0 (1 game remaining on April 4)

It’s hard to know what to expect from a young team like the Leafs when they reach the postseason. Toronto is way ahead of schedule with its rebuild and was not expected to reach the playoffs this year. With Mike Babcock behind the bench as well as young stars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Nikita Zaitsev this is a dangerous team that will be playing very loose and free with no expectations. Plus, they are a team the Caps always seem to struggle against. The last time these two teams met, Braden Holtby was pulled after allowing three goals in the first period. The health of goalie Frederik Andersen is a concern, however, as he is dealing with an unspecified injury. That could lead Toronto to slide in the standings down a wild card spot or perhaps even out of the postseason altogether, depending on how much time he may miss.

Tampa Bay Lightning (83 points)

Caps’ record vs. Lighting this season: 2-0-1

Every time I’m ready to write the Lightning off, they surge. Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman are single-handedly keeping a beaten up Tampa team in the playoff race. Here’s what makes them so dangerous: At some point, a Lightning team that has reached the conference finals in each of the past two seasons is going to start getting some of their injured players back such as Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson. At full strength, Tampa is much better than a wild card team. No one wants to be playing them when they finally do get healthy.

New York Islanders (82 points)

Caps’ record vs. Islanders this season: 2-3-0

I'll be honest, I have no idea really what to make of the Islanders right now. They recalled Jaroslav Halak from the AHL and he started in a shootout win over Pittsburgh. Since then, they went back to Thomas Greiss and have lost both games. Now, to be fair, New York scored only one goal in both games so you can’t lay all those problems at the feet of Greiss. Having said that, however, why recall Halak if you’re not going to use him? Now the Islanders are back to three goalies and seemingly no plan on how to utilize them. This feels like a team just throwing everything at the wall and hoping something will stick. I am not giving them much chance of getting back into the wild card.

Carolina Hurricanes (82 points)

Caps’ record vs. Hurricanes this season: 3-1-0

A 12-game point streak in which the Hurricanes have gone 8-0-4 has resurrected Carolina’s playoff hopes. Rookie Sebastian Aho has been tremendous, Jordan Staal remains as dangerous as ever and the goaltending, long thought to be the Achilles heel of this team, has been just good enough. It’s not great, but it is not the glaring weakness it was last season. Bill Peters is one of the most underrated coaches in the NHL and the Hurricanes are peaking, but is there enough time left for them to climb over the teams in front of them?

For more Capitals coverage, check out the newest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast!

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Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Where: United Center, Chicago, Ill.

When: 8:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blackhawks will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Blackhawks game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

The Capitals (33-17-7) take on the Blackhawks (24-26-8) Saturday, February 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET in Chicago.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Blackhawks game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 7:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 8:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 11:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 12:30 a.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

7:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
8:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blackhawks
11:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
12:30 a.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Blackhawks game:

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

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Jakub Vrana, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

The Capitals-Blackhawks game, 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.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS 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.

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NHL Awards tracker: How Malkin is helping Ovechkin's case for the Hart

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: How Malkin is helping Ovechkin's case for the Hart

A week by week look at where the race for the major individual NHL awards stands and which Caps could be in contention.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been red-hot as of late and so has Evgeni Malkin. In his last nine games, Malkin has tallied a whopping 11 goals and 17 points. His current run has some people talking about him contending for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player.

But if you want to talk about Malkin for the Hart, you have to talk about Alex Ovechkin as well.

Malkin has 66 points this season, Ovechkin has 65. Even with his impressive goal run of late, Malkin still trails Ovechkin in the goal-scoring race 34-32. What's more, Ovechkin's Capitals still hold a three-point lead over Pittsburgh with two games in hand in the Metropolitan Division.

Granted all of this could change by next week. Perhaps Malkin will pass Ovechkin in goals or the Penguins will pass the Caps in the standings which will change the conversation. Until then, however, there's no way to push Malkin's Hart candidacy without thinking about Ovechkin. What he is doing at the age of 32 with a Capitals team in which no one really knew what to expect is more impressive than what the 31-year-old Malkin is doing with players like Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is third among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With two rookies on the blue line and an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Braden Holtby

In contention for: Vezina

Holtby is on pace to be a 40-win goalie for the fourth consecutive season. He would be the first goalie in NHL history to accomplish that feat.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

If Malkin is a Hart candidate, so is Ovechkin who has done more with less in Washington this season.

Barry Trotz

In contention for: Jack Adams

The Caps still hold a three-point lead in the Metropolitan Division despite having two rookies on the blue line, dealing with more injuries than they have seen in years and down offensive years for some of its top players. Trotz deserves a lot of credit for that.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!