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Three possible playoff matchups for the Caps

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Three possible playoff matchups for the Caps

With 15 games remaining in the regular season and the Caps holding a 19-point lead in the Eastern Conference standings, it’s beginning to look like the Caps will face one of three opponents in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

According to hockeyviz.com, the Caps have a 27 percent chance of facing the Philadelphia Flyers, a 22 percent chance of facing the Pittsburgh Penguins and an 18 percent chance of facing the Detroit Red Wings.

Which team would you like to see the Caps face? Let’s take a quick look at each possible opponent.

FLYERS (75 points, 30 ROWs, 16 games remaining)

Philly has been on a tear lately, winning six of their last seven games, including back-to-back victories over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth won the first three games of that run and Steve Mason has taken the last three.

Where they rank: The Flyers rank 21st in the NHL in goals per game (2.55) and 14th in goals against per game (2.56). They rank 14th on the power play (18.9 percent) and 21st on the penalty kill (79.8 percent).

Season series: The Caps are 2-0-1 against the Flyers this season with one game remaining on March 30 in Philly. They last met in the playoffs in 2008 when the Flyers eliminated the Caps in overtime of Game 7 in Round 1.

Probable goaltender: Take your pick. Steve Mason (16-15-7, 2.56, .916, 4 shutouts) or Michal Neuvirth (16-8-4, 2.29, .925, 3 shutouts).

PENGUINS (78 points, 33 ROWs, 15 games remaining)

The Penguins have gone 3-3-0 in their last six games and saw Evgeni Malkin leave Friday night’s game with a possible arm injury. Forwards Eric Fehr and Carl Hagelin returned from injuries in Friday’s win over the Blue Jackets.

Where they rank: The Pens rank 11th in the NHL in goals per game (2.70) and 10th in goals against per game (2.48). They’re 17th on the power play (18.3) and sixth on the penalty kill (83.7).

Season series: The Caps are 2-1-0 against the Penguins this season with two games remaining on March 20 in Pittsburgh and April 7 at Verizon Center. The Caps and Pens last met in the playoffs in 2009 when the Penguins eliminated the Caps in Game 7 in Round 2.

Probable goaltender: Marc-Andre Fleury (28-16-6, 2.34, .922, 5 shutouts)

RED WINGS (77 points, 31 ROWs, 15 games remaining)

The Red Wings snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over Winnipeg Thursday night and face the Rangers at home today.

Where they rank: Detroit ranks 22nd in goals per game (2.51) and 16th in goals against per game (2.60). They rank 24th on the power play (17.1) and 18th on the penalty kill (80.7).

Season series: The Caps went 2-1-0 against the Red Wings this season. All three games were decided by one goal, with the Caps winning once in overtime once in a shootout and suffering a 1-0 loss in Detroit, thanks to a 37-save effort by goaltender Petr Mrazek. The Caps last faced the Red Wings in the playoffs in 1998 when they were swept from the Stanley Cup Final.

Probable goaltender: Petr Mrazek (25-13-6, 2.20, .924, 4 shutouts) 

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals closing in on clinching playoff berth

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

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USA TODAY Sports

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise. Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Towes intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. Toews' interception led to a 2-on-0 in the second period. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal. He also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board. Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.

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4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Blackhawks

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USA TODAY Sports

4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Blackhawks

The Caps were outplayed in just about every facet of the game on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. It is hard to narrow it down to just a few reasons they ultimately lost this game, but here are the most glaring.

The first period

The opening 20 minutes of this game was, to be blunt, awful. The Caps managed only nine shots attempts, six of which went on net. Chicago, meanwhile, fired 21 shots on goal with 29 total shot attempts. Washington was held to 21 shots on goal or less six times this season, so to allow 21 to an opponent in 20 minutes is not a good start. Of course, you can’t allow that many shots and escape unscathed and Washington found themselves down 3-1 at the end of the first. The Caps were outskated and sloppy with the puck and thoroughly dominated by the Blackhawks.

A bad early goal

Chicago did not need any help scoring in this one. The first goal of the game came when Jonathan Toews just threw a quick shot from the corner on net that caught Braden Holtby off guard. Holtby allowed six goals on the night, but only two of them looked soft. It was an inauspicious start to the game and a save Holtby really needed to make.

Two breakaways in the second period

A breakaway represents a breakdown in the defense. When you give up two in a span of 1:10, including a 2-on-0, that means you're not having a good night. In the second period, Brooks Orpik tried a cross-ice pass that was easily picked off by Toews that launched a 2-on-0 with him and Patrick Kane. There may not be a worse tandem in hockey to give up a 2-on-0 against than that. Just about a minute later, Ryan Hartman weaved his way through the defense to spark his own breakaway. It wasn't a good pass that launched him or a bad line change. Hartman's feet were moving and the Caps' were not. As bad as the first period was, it looked as if the Caps had stopped the bleeding as the score remained 3-1 with less than four minutes remaining in the second which is in no way is an insurmountable deficit. In the remaining four minutes, Chicago extended its lead to 6-1.

Defense

Holtby allowed six goals in this game before he was replaced by Philipp Grubauer for the start of the third period. Of those six, only two were "soft" goals Holtby should have had. The other four were the result of poor defense. The breakaways were already described in detail above. The second goal of the game came when Orpik and Madison Bowey both challenge Brandon Saad as he drove into the Caps' zone, leaving Vinnie Hinostroza to go in on net unimpeded. When Saad got the pass to him, Holtby did well to stop the initial shot, but could not get the Saad rebound shot. In the closing seconds of the first period, Holtby stopped a Carl Dahlstrom shot, but the rebound went to a wide open Nick Schmaltz who had all the space he could want to shoot in the rebound. John Carlson finished the game with a minus-3, Orpik, Bowey and Christian Djoos were minus-2 and Matt Niskanen was a minus-1.