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Capitals’ playoff opponent watch: Was Tuesday's game a playoff preview?

Capitals’ playoff opponent watch: Was Tuesday's game a playoff preview?

In the final stretch of the season, it’s time to start projecting possible first round matchups for the Caps.

There are several teams still technically in play as possible opponents for the Caps, but let’s be real. The Capitals are going to finish in the top spot of the conference. Their magic number is one and they would have to lose all three of their remaining games in regulation and the Pittsburgh Penguins would have to win all three of their remaining games for Washington to slide down the standings. So let’s focus on teams that could possibly finish in the second wild card spot.

As of right now the Caps would be playing: The Toronto Maple Leafs (93 points)

Caps’ record vs. Leafs this season: 2-1-0

The Caps dominated on Tuesday in the last meeting between these two teams, but don’t draw any conclusions from that game. There’s a big difference between Game 79 of the regular season, a game in which both backup goalies played, and a playoff series. 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 was not expected to reach the playoffs this year. With Mike Babcock behind the bench as well as young stars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Nikita Zaitsev this is a dangerous team that will be playing very loose and free with no expectations. All of the pressure will be on the Caps to go with all the media that comes with playing Toronto. If you are looking for the “ideal” first-round matchup for Washington, this isn’t it.

RELATED: Caps move closer to division crown with dominant win over Leafs

Other possible playoff opponents

Ottawa Senators (94 points)

Caps’ record vs. Senators this season: 2-1-0

The fact that we are talking about the Senators at this point is a surprise. At the beginning of the season, I did not look at Ottawa as a playoff team. Then, just a few weeks ago, it looked like the Senators would challenge for first in the Atlantic. Over the course of the season, they have gone from a team with few expectations, to division contender, to possible wild card team. So here we are. Ottawa is dealing with some injuries that have taken their toll in the latter part of the season, but there’s no denying that when the games started to matter, the Senators came up short. In three games against the Montreal Canadiens in March, with the division still up for grabs, Ottawa lost all three of those matchups. They are also the only team in either conference currently in playoff position that owns a negative goal differential (-3). Having said that, the Seantors are certainly no pushover. In January when the Caps were playing at their best, they managed only two narrow wins against Ottawa. While they were beating everybody else 6-0, they beat the Senators 2-1 and 1-0. Ottawa eventually snapped Washington’s 14-game point streak with a 3-0 win. Erik Karlsson is one of the top defensemen in the entire NHL and you can bet this team is going to be playing its heart out for goalie Craig Anderson who has had to leave the team at various points over the season to be with his wife as she battles cancer.

Boston Bruins (94 points)

Caps’ record vs. Bruins this season: 2-0-0 (1 game remaining on April 8)

This is not a wild card team to sleep on given that they boast one of the top offensive players and agitators in the NHL in Brad Marchand and a top netminder in Tuukka Rask. There is a concern, however, that Rask has been overworked this season and that is a sentiment shared by Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. Marchand also seems incapable of behaving himself. In a critical game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, Marchand speared Jake Dotchin right in the pucks. While I seriously doubt any punishment from the league will include any sort of playoff suspension, all eyes will be on him in the postseason. It won’t take much for the NHL to throw the book at him given his growing list of transgressions. Overall, this looks like a team the Caps would matchup well against. Rask is overworked, Zdeno Chara isn’t what he once was and while they may be revitalized under Cassidy, you can go ahead and give Washington the big advantage in terms of coaching.

New York Islanders (88 points)

Caps’ record vs. Islanders this season: 2-3-0

Tampa Bay Lightning (88 points)

Caps’ record vs. Lighting this season: 2-0-1

Trailing Toronto by five points with just three games remaining, it would take a minor miracle at this point for the Islanders and Lightning to reach the postseason.

MORE CAPITALS: Carlson a late scratch for Tuesday's game

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How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

For the past two weeks, updates to the 2020 postseason have been rolling in making it hard to keep track of them all. A very different 2020 postseason awaits when play resumes so you may not know all the ins and outs of how the playoffs will work. Right now the most important things for Capitals fans to remember are that Washington is in, we don't know who they will play in the first round or where they will be seeded and yes, they could play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.

So let's go over the specifics.

Where will the Caps be seeded?

We don't know. Next question!

Washington finished third in the Eastern Conference and first in the Metropolitan Division, just barely edging out the Philadelphia Flyers, but that won't get them much. All this means is that the Caps are among the top four teams in the conference so they will play a three-game round-robin to determine the top four seeds. Washington will play Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia each one time in games with regular-season rules (meaning shootouts instead of endless overtime). The team with the best record in that round-robin will earn the top seed in the conference. It doesn't matter that Boston had 10 more points than Washington when the season paused, the Caps could still jump to the top of the conference should the finish with a better record in these three games.

The only way in which regular-season records matter at this point is to determine the four teams that get to play in the round-robin and as a tiebreaker. Regular season points percentage will be used as the tiebreaker for teams tied after the round-robin.

Who will the Caps play in the playoffs?

We won't know that specifically for three reasons. First, we have to know where the Caps will be seeded and we won't until after the round-robin; second, we won't know until after the play-in round; and third, it was announced on Thursday that the teams will be reseeded after each round so it's possible we won't know exactly who the Caps will play until the play-in round is completely finished.


If that sounds like reseeding makes things more complicated, it does in a sense, but it was the right decision. Yes, when the playoffs begin we won't be able to have a clear bracket for the playoffs what? I mean, does that really matter? What reseeding does is prevent the top seed from getting screwed. A bracket is made with the assumption that the top team will win each round. That means the No. 4 is supposed to play the No. 5 in the first round, but what happens if a No. 12 upsets the No. 5 in the play-in? All of a sudden, the No. 4 team would be playing the lowest seed left in the tournament while the No. 1 would have to play the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 series.

That does not make sense.

Yes, trying to explain who the Caps could play after their bye from the play-in series is enough to make your head spin, but trust me, it makes a lot more logical sense to do it this way and ensures the better playoff matchups in the later rounds as opposed to the early rounds which has been a problem for the NHL since they adopted their division system.

How could the Caps play the Penguins in the first round?

For most Capitals fans, whenever the playoffs roll around everyone starts looking to see if a Washington-Pittsburgh postseason rematch is in the cards. Despite describing how we basically don't know anything about who the Caps could play in the first round yet, there is actually a pretty straightforward path for a Caps-Penguins matchup.

As the No. 5 seed, Pittsburgh is the highest-seeded team in the play-in round. Now that we know the NHL will reseed after each round, if the Penguins win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, they are guaranteed to play the No. 4 seed in the first round of the playoffs. If Washington finishes last in the round-robin and Pittsburgh wins its series, get out the popcorn and work on that bird celebration, because it will mean a Caps vs. Penguins series yet again.

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NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

The NHL will transition to Phase 2 of its return to play plan, the reopening of team facilities for training activities, on June 8, the league announced Thursday.

Since the season was paused on March 12, the league has considered itself to be in Phase 1 of the plan, meaning self-isolation. While the NHL and NHLPA have made progress off the ice towards a return to play negotiating things such as the playoff format, throughout all those talks the league still remained in Phase 1. This is the first concrete step the NHL has taken towards an eventual return to the ice.

"Beginning June 8 – subject to each Club’s satisfaction of all of the requirements set out in the Phase 2 Protocol – Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice)," a statement released by the NHL said. "Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning."

As the statement notes, participation in Phase 2 activities are voluntary and will be limited to six players at a time. The Capitals have not yet set a date for the team's start of Phase 2.


Phase 3 of the plan is training camp and, despite Thursday's announcement, we remain far off from that point. According to Pierre LeBrun, the earliest the league would start camps is July 10. Phase 4 is then the resumption of the season.

Presumably, Phase 3 will not start without a date set for when Phase 4. It is hard to believe the NHLPA would agree to an indefinite training camp. Phase 2, however, can begin without any formalized dates for Phases 3 and 4.  So while this is certainly a step towards the return of hockey and a sign that things are improving, all the difficult deciions regarding health and safety protocols as well as a timeline for the eventual 2020 postseason are still yet to be decided.

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