The Capitals are struggling right now, but the slate will be wiped clean in April at the start of the Stanley Cup players. With 87 points, even if Washington were to go only .500 the rest of the way, the team would still have 102 points so yes, even with the state of the team at the moment, the playoffs are still very likely. But who will the Caps play?
Here's a look at where things stand as of March 6, Washington's most likely playoff opponents and how the Caps matchup against them.
If the playoffs were to start now, Washington would be playing...the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Eastern Conference bracket as of March 6
Washington (1st in the Metro, 87 points) vs. Columbus (1st wild card, 79 points)
Philadelphia (M2, 87 points) vs. Pittsburgh (M3, 84 points)
Boston (1st in the Atlantic, 98 points) vs. New York Islanders (WC2, 78 points)
Tampa Bay (A2, 89 points) vs. Toronto (A3, 78 points)
In the hunt: New York Rangers (76 points), Carolina Hurricanes (75 points), Florida Panthers (74 points)
The Caps and Flyers are tied in the standings and in regulation wins (30) which is the first tie-breaker. Washington remains in first place, however, with a 36-35 advantage in ROW.
Washington is 1-2-0 against Columbus this season with one game left to play on March 19.
Initially, you may think of Columbus as a horrible matchup for the Caps. The Blue Jackets completely owned Washington in the first two matchups against them this season winning by a combined score of 8-2. They play an aggressive forecheck style that has been a major weakness for the Caps. Injuries, however, have really taken their toll on Columbus. Josh Anderson is out for the season while Seth Jones and Oliver Bjorkstrand both suffered ankle injuries that could possibly keep them out for the remainder of the season. And those are just the long-term injuries.
With so many key players out of the lineup, Columbus has won only two of its last 13 games and is barely clinging to its wild card spot. They have also played 68 games which means the Islanders have two games in hand, the Rangers have one and Carolina has three.
Washington, meanwhile, has gone 14-14-2 since Dec. 23, lost three of its last four and nine of its last 13. Philadelphia is tied with them in the standings after winning eight straight.
At this point, neither the Caps nor the Blue Jackets seem likely to stay in their respective places in the standings.
The most likely playoff opponent for the Caps? To me, that would be the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers are hot and suddenly look like the team to beat in the division which would drop Washington down into the second spot. After losing six straight, the Penguins are starting to right the ship with two wins. I believe both Washington and Pittsburgh will ultimately claim second and third in the Metro which would set up a first-round matchup between the two rivals.
Other possible matchups for Washington
Philadelphia: If Pittsburgh catches fire and the Flyers cool off, the Penguins could conceivably still win the Metro setting up a first-round matchup between Washington and Philadelphia. Based on the last two times they have played in which the Flyers won both games by a combined score of 12-4, that does not seem like an ideal matchup.
New York Islanders: At six points back of Pittsburgh, the only likely way Washington would play the Islanders is if the Caps won the division and the Islanders took the top wild card spot.
Toronto: Washington would have to win the division while the Panthers would have to rally to take the third spot in the Atlantic, thus pushing Toronto into a wild card spot.
New York Rangers: They're hot, but injuries are wearing on the Rangers. They si t two points shy of the Islanders, but three points shy of the top wild card.
Carolina: With three games in hand on Columbus and one on the Islanders, the hill to get into the top wild card spot does not seem all that tough to climb. The Hurricanes trail Columbus by four points, but that is time
Florida: The Panthers would have to rally to make up the five-point gap between them and the top wild card spot, while also not playing well enough to catch the Maple Leafs which would put Florida back in the top three of the division and back in the Atlantic side of the bracket.
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