In the final stretch of the season, it’s time to start projecting possible first round matchups for the Caps.
Washington still finds itself in a tight race for the top of the Metropolitan Division, but the Caps look like their are back on track after a recent slump and still hold first place.
As of right now the Caps would be playing: The Toronto Maple Leafs (81 points)
Caps’ record vs. Islanders this season: 1-1-0 (1 game remaining on April 4)
It’s hard to know what to expect from a young team like the Leafs when they reach the postseason. Toronto is way ahead of schedule with its rebuild and were not expected to reach the playoffs this year. Plus, with Mike Babcock behind the bench, this is a dangerous team. But considering the youth that makes up the roster, you have to expect them to hit the wall at some point. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nikita Zaitsev, the young rookies that make up the core of his team have never played in an 82-game season before and there is no more physically grueling hockey league than the NHL. Sure, should the Leafs make the playoffs, they will be playing with house money and should be very loose, but how much will they really have left in the tank for a seven-game series?
Other possible playoff opponents
Pittsburgh Penguins (101 points)
Caps record vs. Penguins this season: 2-0-2
If you hated the NHL’s current playoff format before, just wait if we see a Washington-Pittsburgh series in the first round. We are headed for a photo finish in the Metropolitan Division between the Caps, Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. The two teams that lose that race will get to face one another in the first round. While the Caps have earned at least a point in each game against the Penguins this season, you can go ahead and throw the record out when it comes to these two teams. As difficult as it is to comprehend just how these two teams could open the playoffs against one another, this perhaps would not be the worst thing in the world. The Penguins are not a healthy team right now as they are dealing with several injuries to key players. For my money, however, I think the Caps would be better off watching Pittsburgh get further beaten up in a series with Columbus and then face the winner.
Columbus Blue Jackets (100 points)
Caps record vs. Blue Jackets this season: 1-1-1 (2 games remaining on March 23 and April 2)
If the Penguins do win the Metropolitan Division, Washington will face a John Tortorella-led Blue Jackets team. Columbus is not as good as they looked when they won 16 straight games earlier in the season, a win streak that was broken by the Caps in a 5-0 blowout, but to their credit they have kept pace with Washington and Pittsburgh to stay within striking distance of the top spot in the Metro. The biggest concern is goalie Sergei Bobrovsky who is making a case for the Vezina or the Hart with this play. He has a .931 save percentage and 2.04 GAA and is more than capable of leading the Blue Jackets deep into the playoffs.
Boston Bruins (82 points)
Caps’ record vs. Bruins this season: 2-0-0 (1 game remaining on April 8)
Boston is still clinging to third place in the Atlantic for now, but Toronto is hot on its heels and could well overtake the Bruins. Boston has lost three straight including a loss to the Leafs who could push the Bruins down into the wild card. This is not a wild card team to sleep on, however, as they boast one of the top offensive players and agitators in the NHL in Brad Marchand and a top netminder in Tuukka Rask.
New York Islanders (78 points)
Caps’ record vs. Islanders this season: 2-3-0
The Islanders have finally lost their grip on the wild card spot. They have lost four of their last five and it looks like the honeymoon period between the team and interim coach Doug Weight is now over. Does a team that looked like one of the worst in the Eastern Conference for much of the season have enough steam to battle back into the wild card?
Tampa Bay Lightning (77 points)
Caps’ record vs. Lighting this season: 2-0-1
At last week’s update, the Lightning had 77 points. This week: 77 points. Not good. With three straight losses including a home loss to the woeful Arizona Coyotes, it appears the injuries have finally caught up to Tampa. They now trail Toronto by four points and the Leafs hold a game in hand so this matchup now seems unlikely.
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