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Push for the Playoffs: Capitals, Penguins battle for first in East Division

Darren Dreger provides an update on the NHL's latest COVID-19 protocols for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which could be complicated by the extension of the border restrictions between the U.S. and Canada.

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Rangers look determined to make things as interesting as possible, but the East Division top four almost certainly looks to boil down to the Bruins, Capitals, Islanders, and Penguins falling in some order.

After head-to-head games on Thursday and Saturday, we could get a better idea of whether or not the Penguins or Capitals will really be able to create some distance for the East Division title.

As great a rivalry as Capitals-Penguins has been, it might also take a little time for the two teams to get to know each other again. Despite the concentrated number of games between a select few East Division teams, the Penguins and Capitals haven’t faced off since Washington beat Pittsburgh 5-2 on Feb. 25.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

“It’s going to feel like the first game of the season against them,” Former Penguins and current Capitals winger Carl Hagelin said. “It’s been two months, and a lot of hockey has been played in those two months since we played them. Both teams have changed, and we’re looking forward to the challenge. We know what type of team they are, and they’ve obviously found a way to keep winning games with a lot of injuries.”

Indeed, a lot of hockey happened since then, and both teams have been playing well since they last met. The Capitals are fourth in point percentage during that time (22-8-0, .733), while the Penguins rank fifth (22-8-2, .719).

For all we know, the Penguins and Capitals could rekindle their rivalry with a series in Round 1 or 2 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That all depends upon where they end up down the stretch -- and, to some extent, how they perform against each other.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (matchups by total points)

1. Capitals vs. 4. Bruins
2. Penguins vs. 3 Islanders

1. Maple Leafs vs. 4. Canadiens
2. Oilers vs. 3. Jets

1. Hurricanes vs. 4. Predators
2. Panthers vs. 3 Lightning

(NOTE: Dallas currently holds a better points percentage than Nashville -- .551 to .549.)

1. Golden Knights vs. 4. Blues
2. Avalanche vs. 3. Wild

Stars vs. Lightning, 7 p.m. ET
Penguins vs. Capitals, 7 p.m. ET
Blues vs. Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Panthers vs. Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN livestream)
Flames vs. Oilers, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN livestream - LIVE LOOK-IN)

• Washington will clinch a playoff spot if they beat Pittsburgh in any fashion AND the Islanders beat the Rangers in any fashion OR they earn at least one point against Pittsburgh AND the Islanders beat the Rangers in regulation.

• Pittsburgh will clinch a playoff spot if they defeat Washington in any fashion AND the Islanders beat the Rangers in regulation.

East April 29


Capitals - 99.99%
Penguins - 99.98%
Bruins - 98.3%
Islanders - 95.8%
Rangers - 5.9%
Flyers - 0%
Devils - eliminated
Sabres - eliminated

North April 29


Maple Leafs - Clinched
Oilers - 100%
Jets - 99.5%
Canadiens - 85.2%
Flames - 12.9%
Canucks - 2.5%
Senators - 0%

Central April 29


Hurricanes - Clinched
Panthers - Clinched
Lightning - Clinched
Predators - 59%
Stars - 40.3%
Blackhawks - 0.7%
Red Wings - eliminated
Blue Jackets - eliminated

West April 29


Golden Knights - Clinched
Avalanche - Clinched
Wild - Clinched
Blues - 89.2%
Coyotes - 6.5%
Sharks - 2.6%
Kings - 1.7%
Ducks - eliminated

draft lottery

Getty Images

NHLI via Getty Images


Sabres - 18.1%
Ducks - 12.9%
Devils - 10.9%
Blue Jackets - 9%
Red Wings - 8.5%
Senators - 7.7%
Kings - 6.3%
Canucks - 5.4%
Sharks - 5.1%
Coyotes - 4.2%
Blackhawks - 3.4%
Flames - 2.8%
Flyers - 2.1%
Stars - 1.1%

Connor McDavid, Oilers - 84 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers - 67
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche - 61
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks - 60
Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs - 60
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs - 59
Brad Marchand, Bruins - 58

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs - 35 goals
Connor McDavid, Oilers - 28
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche - 26
Brad Marchand, Bruins - 26
Tyler Toffoli, Canadiens - 25
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals - 24
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers - 24
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers - 24
Max Pacioretty, Golden Knights - 24

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.