The playoff race in the Metropolitan Division is tight this year. The Washington Capitals have 102 points, while the Pittsburgh Penguins are nipping at their heels with 101. The Columbus Blue Jackets not far behind them with 100, and the New York Rangers are comfortably in a wild card slot with 94. For reference, Micah Blake McCurdy has updated his point projections for this season.
Daniel Winnik said it best when he stated that the current playoff format is “the stupidest thing ever,” and he is right. Due to the bracket by division style the NHL has implemented in order to breed rivalries, the Metro gets slighted. Think about this: if the Rangers were in the Atlantic Division, they would be winning it. Instead, they will get the next best thing, which is a match-up in the Atlantic Division bracket, which is considerably weaker.
What can the Capitals do to make their lives easier? Since it has been discussed that the Rangers will cling desperately to that wild card spot (and are possibly losing games on purpose to make it happen), the only thing the Caps can do to ensure a slightly easier route through the playoffs is to win the Metro. To do that, they have to do this with the remaining points in their schedule.
No falling off the wagon this year.
Where can the Caps snag remaining points?
Columbus Blue Jackets (two games)
Make no mistake about it; these are not two-point games. They are four-point games. Intra-division with the team you have to keep ahead of to make sure you do not play Pittsburgh in the first round? These are must wins. One is at home and one is away. If they get all four points from this series (or even three), that is acceptable. Anything under two points is bad.
Arizona Coyotes (two games)
The Coyotes were mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture Monday. Take the four points where you can get them.
The Capitals snapped their four-game losing streak against the Wild not a week ago. This is a tough game to grab any points from, and one is more than satisfactory. Plus, this could be a Stanley Cup Final teaser, so here’s to a good showing from both squads.
This is the same situation as the Arizona games. Get the two points and get out.
We take you to a live look-in of the Maple Leafs clinging to a playoff spot:
This is a must win for the Caps for two reasons. The first is that the Leafs play this kind of defense and should get shredded for it.
The second is that this might be whom the Caps play in the first round. They should give the Leafs a taste. Two points please.
New York Rangers
Tough game at home during Wednesday Night Rivalry. As of March 11th, Henrik Lundqvist was out for 2-3 weeks with a lower body injury, and he could be coming back during this period or stay resting. Finding a way to get one point out of the Rangers should be satisfactory.
This is similar to the Rangers game. Tuukka Rask is known to get streaky and Boston is climbing its way up the Atlantic. Grab a point if possible.
They are out of the playoff hunt, but could definitely play spoiler. By the time the Caps play them for the last game of the season however, Florida could be in a playoff spot thanks to the low point totals in the Atlantic. Additionally, if the Metro race to the top is still tight, these points could separate the Caps from the pack. Get the win.