Capitals

Caps Playoff watch: The East Division is up for grabs

Capitals
Alex Ovechkin

The Capitals are down to 10 games left in the regular season and the postseason is rapidly approaching. Here's a look at where things stand for Washington and the East Division.

1. Washington Capitals 46 GP, 28-13-4, 62 points

2. New York Islanders 45 GP, 28-13-4, 60 points

3. Pittsburgh Penguins 45 GP, 28-14-3, 59 points

4. Boston Bruins 43 GP, 25-12-6, 56 points

5. New York Rangers 45 GP, 23-16-6, 52 points

6. Philadelphia Flyers 45 GP, 20-18-7, 47 points

7. New Jersey Devils 44 GP, 14-24-6, 34 points

8. Buffalo Sabres 45 GP, 12-26-7, 31 points

Don't worry about the Rangers

Caps fans are full of consternation over the possibility of the Rangers sneaking into the fourth spot and facing Washington in the first round. The Caps have gone 2-4-0 against New York this season in what has proven to be a bad matchup. In terms of the playoffs, however, it's not going to happen.

Four points currently separate Boston and New York for the final playoff spot. That's not a huge deficit considering the Rangers and Bruins will play two more games against each other, but the number to keep in mind is 43. That's how many games Boston has played giving them two games in hand over New York.

The Rangers won four straight just to close the gap to four points and all four of those wins were against New Jersey. It will be a bit tougher once New York has to start playing teams with a pulse again. I just don't see them catching anyone in the top four.

A boring playoff race, but a fun divisional one

If the Rangers are out, then we have a pretty boring playoff race with about three weeks left to go in the season. But even if we already know who will be in the playoffs, the East race bears watching because we have no idea where those teams will finish in the standings. Three points are all that separates first-place Washington from third-place Pittsburgh and don't count out Boston. The Bruins have three games in hand over the Caps and trail them by only six points.

 

The entire division may actually come down to what happens in the upcoming three-game series between the Caps and Islanders. Washington visits Long Island on Thursday and Saturday and the Islanders visiting the DIstrict on April 27. If either team is able to sweep that set, they will have the leg-up on the competition for the division crown.

I do not believe any of the top four teams in the division will ultimately be pushed out, but I could see those top four finishing in any order in the standings.

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Playoff opponents

If we already know who the four playoffs teams are going to be, then we know the three most likely candidates to play Washington in the first round:

Boston

Caps record vs. the Bruins: 3-4-0

If the playoffs were to start today, this would be Washington's opponent. Given the way these teams have played against one another, that looks like it would be a pretty epic, penalty-filled series.

There's no worry about contrasting styles in this one: These teams play each other very physically. While that's Washington's bread and butter, you have to be physical with a purpose to win games. Teams can't just start recklessly throwing bodies around and the Caps have fallen into that trap a few times against Boston this year.

The Caps had a lot of trouble against the perfection line (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak) on Sunday and the addition of Taylor Hall gives the Bruins some offensive depth.

Pittsburgh

Caps record vs. the Penguins: 2-1-3

It is hard to gauge just what kind of a matchup this would be for two reasons. First, three of Washington's four losses to Pittsburgh came after regulation. Second, these two teams have not met since Feb. 25.

They will meet for a two-game series starting on April 29.

New York Islanders

Caps record vs. the Islanders: 3-2-0

Washington started off 3-0-0 against New York, but has lost each of the last two. They will meet in a three-game series starting Thursday that could determine who wins the division.

Early in the season, the Caps were able to basically turn the tables on New York in every way from their playoff series. Suddenly, Washington was dominating the net-front and dictating the course of play. That has not happened in the last two games. Whether or not Washington is able to establish its game-plan against the Islanders in their upcoming games will be something to watch.

 

Coin flip

What's the biggest takeaway from looking at the three probable faceoff opponents? That there is no obvious team the Caps should want to play. Maybe that changes in the final stretch of the season -- Washington will play the Islanders three times, Pittsburgh twice and Boston once -- but overall, there is no clear matchup fans should be rooting four. All four teams look like they will be tough outs.