The Capitals officially punched their tickets to the playoffs. With a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, Washington became the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth. The Caps have now reached the postseason in three straight season and in nine of their last 10.
While we know the Caps will be headed to the playoffs, that's pretty much all we know.
Saturday's win gives Washington 100 points on the season, but both the Columbus Blue Jackets (98 points) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (97) are hot on their heels. Both teams hold a game in hand over the Caps. The stakes for the Metropolitan Division race are pretty high. The winner gets a first-round matchup with a wild card team. The losers will have to play one another.
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If you were annoyed by the Caps and Penguins meeting in the second round last season rather than the Conference Finals, well, imagine if they have to play in the first round instead.
As for who the second wild card team could be, that race remains tight between the Toronto Maple Leafs (79 points), New York Islanders (78) and Tampa Bay (77). The Leafs not only have the edge in points, they also hold a game in hand over both the Islanders and Leafs. That makes Friday's loss for the Lightning a critical one.
The race for both the Metro Division and the second wild card are tight ones and they may come down to the wire. So while the Caps know their season won't be ending on April 9 in the regular season finale, there's still plenty left to be decided and plenty left for this team to play for until then.
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There was a scary moment at Capital One Arena on Saturday.
In the second period, Alex Ovechkin got a stick in front of a pass from Wild forward Chris Stewart. The puck climbed Ovechkin's stick and struck him in the face sending the Caps' captain to the ice. When he got up, a pool of blood was clearly visible on the ice.
Ovechkin left under his own power and immediately made his way to the locker room.
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Coming off a poor two-game road trip, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz elected to keep his lineup mostly familiar with Bruce Boudreau and a hot Wild team coming to town.
Here’s how they’re expected to line up tonight on F Street:
Stephenson – Backstrom – Oshie
Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly
Vrana – Eller – Wilson
Connolly – Beagle – Chiasson
Orpik – Carlson
Orlov – Niskanen
Chorney – Bowey
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Now for some notes, quotes and observations from the morning skate:
- Braden Holtby (10-4-0/2.68 gaa/.918 Sv%) is scheduled to return to the net for Washington. It’s likely Devan Dubnyk will get the nod for Minnesota, which has won four games in row. Dubnyk (8-6-1/2.28 gaa/.922 Sv%) earned shutouts in three of those games.
- After getting smoked 6-3 and 6-2 in Nashville and Colorado, respectively, the Caps are looking to get things back on track at home, where they’ll play the next four games in a row and nine of the next 10. The good news? T.J. Oshie and Co. have won their last four games on home ice after a 1-3 start there.
- The only lineup change for the Caps is Jakub Vrana returning after sitting out Thursday as a healthy scratch. Vrana has two points—both goals—in his last 13 games...and one was scored into an empty net.
- Trotz was pretty direct when asked where his team needs to improve after a couple of ugly losses on the road. “We were executing, playing pretty solid and in a groove, if you will,” Trotz said of the Caps winning five of six games to start the month. “But it’s gone off the rails a little bit here in the last two games. We’re the only ones that can get it back. …We’ve had too many passengers. Everything starts with our best players. Tonight, we’re going to need our best players to be the best players because everyone else will follow.”
- Christian Djoos, who suffered an upper-body injury in Nashville and missed the Colorado game, did not skate Saturday. “I don’t know exactly when he’s going to skate yet,” Trotz said. “He’s still day-to-day with the trainers. Once they tell me he can skate, he’ll be out there.”
- Tyler Graovac, in Hershey on a long-term conditioning stint, figures to be back soon. He’s got a goal and an assist in two games with the Bears. Although the stint is set to end this weekend, Trotz said he plans to talk to Graovac and that his stay in Hershey could be extended to a fourth or fifth game with the player’s permission. “I’ve set it up with him and I have good communication with him,” Trotz said. “[So] if he needs a fourth or a fifth game, we’ll talk and we’ll decide. …There’s a possibility that he could return as soon as Monday or as late as next Friday.”
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