If the Stanley Cup Playoffs started today, the Washington Capitals would have to face none other than the Pittsburgh Penguins first in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
As of Monday morning, the Caps currently hold a three-point lead over the Penguins, who suffered a stunning loss Sunday to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins have now lost their last two -- the St. Louis Blues rocked them Saturday, 5-1 -- and have dropped three of their last six, but they beat the Caps in there last week too.
Making a late playoff push, Flyers James van Riemsdyk scored with 19 seconds left in the third period to tie the game at 1-1 and force overtime. And in the final seconds of overtime, Philly center Sean Couturier snuck another one past Penguins goalie Matt Murray for the 2-1 win.
The unlikely comeback is the first time in NHL history that a team knocked off the same opponent more than once in a season with a game-tying goal in the final 30 seconds, after the Flyers beat the Penguins under similar circumstances about three weeks ago. With another W over their instate rivals, Philadelphia is now within six points of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the conference's second wild card spot.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are sitting at the top of the conference with an astonishing 114 points, followed by the Boston Bruins (95 points), the Toronto Maple Leafs (91 points) and the New York Islanders (91 points). The Caps are currently fifth (91 points) in the conference, the Penguins are sixth (88 points), the Carolina Hurricanes are seventh (85 points) and Columbus is eighth (84 points).
Along with the potential Caps-Pens series if the playoff standings don't change, Tampa Bay would play the Blue Jackets, the Bruins would play the Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes would face the Islanders.
Tied for first in the Metro Division with the New York Islanders, Washington has 10 games remaining in the regular season, starting with the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday on the road. The Caps then have a four-game homestand and will close out the regular season with two games against the conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, two games against Carolina and a season finale at home against the Islanders.
Conference wide, the Caps and Islanders are also currently tied with the Maple Leafs, leaving a bit of room for the playoff matchups to change. A late surge from the Caps, plus a few losses from the Leafs and Islanders could have them taking on the Bruins. Or, on the other side, if Washington stumbles, it could still get stuck with the Penguins or maybe even the Islanders.
The Penguins only have nine games left in the regular season. They have two games each against the Hurricanes, the Detroit Red Wings, the Nashville Predators and the New York Rangers. In the Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes are barely holding onto that wild-card spot, while the Red Wings have already been eliminated and the Rangers are almost there too. The Predators are currently fourth in the Western Conference.
For the Flyers after Sunday's win, they still have 10 games remaining in the regular season to surge into the playoff picture, they're not just chasing the Blue Jackets. The Montreal Canadiens are currently the first Eastern Conference team out of the playoffs and are only three points behind Columbus with 10 games left -- including ones against the Flyers, the Hurricanes, the Blue Jackets and the Caps on April 4.
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