With the New York Islanders' defeat of the Florida Panthers on Friday, the field of possible playoff opponents for the Capitals in the first round has been narrowed down to three.
Washington is guaranteed to finish in the bottom half of the round robin standings. Since the teams are reseeded in each round, the Caps will play one of the two top seeds coming out of the qualifying round. The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders were the No. 6 and 7 seeds respectively heading into the postseason and have already won their series to advance to the first round. The only team seeded higher, the Pittsburgh Penguins, trail the Montreal Canadiens 2 games to 1. If they rally to win, Pittsburgh will finish as the highest seed out of the qualifying round with Carolina as the second-highest.
Exactly which seed the Caps will play has yet to be determined. Washington has one final round robin game against the Boston Bruins. The winner of that game will claim the 3-seed in the East while the loser will bump down to 4.
So it's down to the Penguins, Hurricanes or Islanders. Those are three teams with whom the Caps have a lot of history.
The Washington-Pittsburgh rivalry has been one of the top rivalries in the league since Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby began playing. The last time the Caps faced Pittsburgh was in 2018. Washington was victorious for just the second time in 11 postseason meetings and went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Caps played the Hurricanes in the first round last season as defending champs, but their quest for a second Cup was short-lived as Carolina upset them in seven games. As for the Islanders, former head coach Barry Trotz is now behind the bench in Long Island meaning that would be a series with plenty of intrigue.
Should the Penguins lose on Friday, the will be eliminated and suddenly the field for the Caps will be trimmed down to two teams. Washington's final round robin game will be Sunday against the Boston Bruins.
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