There has not been much concern over whether the Capitals would be playing in May for a few months. The concern has long been who their opponent will be in the Stanley Cup playoffs — and right now, it looks like they could have the toughest matchup in the Eastern Conference.
Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins won on Saturday afternoon, leaving Washington in a less-than-ideal situation with just four games left to play.
The Capitals have 99 points after Friday's 2-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes and currently sit in the second wild card spot, two points behind the Bruins (101 points) for the first wild card spot. The Penguins, also with 101 points, are third in the Metropolitan Division.
Meaning, as of now, the Capitals are currently slated to face the NHL-best Florida Panthers, who entered play Saturday with an NHL-best 118 points, in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And while Washington has a game in hand on the Penguins and can bring the standings to a tie again with a win on Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Capitol One Arena, it appears the Capitals are destined to lose any tiebreaker(s) against both Boston and Pittsburgh.
The first playoff tiebreaker is regulation wins: The Penguins have 36, the Bruins have 37 and the Capitals have just 35. The second tiebreaker is regulation and overtime wins combined: The Penguins have 42, the Bruins have 46 and the Capitals have 39.
In layman’s terms, unless Washington can surpass either Pittsburgh or Boston in points by next Friday -- no ties -- they can't move up in the standings and avoid the scorching Panthers, who have won 12 games in a row and are favored to earn the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team.
The Capitals will host the Leafs on Sunday at Capital One Arena, then the New York Islanders on Tuesday before ending the season on the road against the Islanders and Rangers in New York.
The Penguins' final week includes a road game at the Philadelphia Flyers followed by two games at home against the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets. Only the Oilers from that group will participate in the postseason.
The Bruins will end the season with games at the Montreal Canadiens -- the Eastern Conference's worst team with 51 points -- with the Panthers and non-playoff Buffalo Sabres at home. Then comes a season-finale matchup against the Maple Leafs. Toronto (108 points) is in second place in the Atlantic Division behind only Florida.
With a strong finish to the season and some help by the Bruins and Penguins' opponents, the Capitals could still climb to the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, overtake the Penguins, and face the second-seed in the Metropolitan Division.
What team that would be remains up in the air. The Carolina Hurricanes (110 points) lead the Metro after a win early Saturday against New Jersey. The Rangers (108 points) lost to Boston Saturday afternoon to fall two points behind. But the Metro winner is far from settled entering the final week.
Washington could also still pass the Bruins for that first Eastern Conference wild-card berth -- but again who they would play is in question. It would still be either the Hurricanes or the Rangers.
If the Capitals stay put in the second wild card spot, they’ll certainly be underdogs against Florida. After results went against them on an off day Saturday, the Capitals’ playoff future isn’t in their control even if they win all four of their remaining games.