So sure it's possible the Caps and Hurricanes could meet in the playoffs in the first round but it's also very possible the Caps will face the Rangers, the Penguins, the Canadiens or the Panthers. Yes I said or the Panthers. The only folks it seems unlikely the Caps will face in the first round is Boston, New Jersey or Philadelphia. Of course, those are all possible and likely second round opponents, if the Caps get past the first round. The Caps had a chance to get into second place today since the New Jersey Devils lost to the Boston Bruins 4-1 after Martin Brodeur got his 101st career shutout in a 4-0 win over the Minnesota Wild in front of a sellout crowd at home in Prudential Center on Friday Evening. The win by the Bruins mean they are the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the Caps remain just one standings point behind New Jersey, though the Devils do also have two games in hand on the Capitals.
The Capitals now enter a stretch of the season where they have just three games over the next eleven days. At the end of that period the Caps will find themselves "even up" on the Devils each with 77 games played and Boston will have one game in hand on each of them. Boston's last six games of the season are Ottawa (twice), the Rangers, Montreal, Buffalo and the Islanders all once. The Devils last six games of the season are: Pittsburgh (on the road), Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa, and they finish out the season at home against Carolina. The Caps' last six games are: the Islanders, Buffalo, and Atlanta all at home before they finish the season on a three game road trip (to accommodate the NCAA Frozen Four at the Phone Booth) against Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Florida. So the Bruins face "bubble tams" who are fighting for a playoff spot and/or position two or three times (depending on how Buffalo fares these next three/four games) during their last six games of the season. New Jersey faces "bubble teams" the same two or three times in their last six games; and the Capitals play "bubble teams" twice in their last six.
That schedule would seem to favor the Capitals, as would an analysis based on overall records except when you scrape below the surface that may not be true. Next up for the Caps is Toronto, who just "pasted" Montreal 5-2 on Hockey Night in Canada last night so nothing is a "given" and "that's why they play the games on the ice." Since Toronto isn't really in the "lottery race" there seems to be no reason they won't work hard to play the spoiler. Apparently the Capitals in general and Alexander Ovechkin in particular "upset" the Lightning the last time they met so during the last two meetings between the teams, expect former Flyer and Tampa Bay head coach Rick Tocchet to use that as motivation for the Bolts, for whatever that might be worth; I've already suggested that if I were Bruce Boudreau I'd consider making Alexander Ovechkin a healthy scratch for those games. I'm an old tyme hockey guy to but threatening players that way is really out of line, no matter how much Tocchet thinks OV's 50th goal celebration went over the top. The Islanders game should go the Caps way, after all in addition to their current situation, the Islanders will be playing the second game of a "back-to-back." Of course that's what I thought last night when the Caps had the Hurricanes to face. Facing Atlanta twice in their last six games would seem to be a real benefit for the Caps, except Atlanta is 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and the season series is tied 2-2. No gimmes' there for the Capitals, even though from a standings perspective the games could just as easily be "don't care/no impact" games by that point.
Finishing the season at Florida, the same day New Jersey finishes the season at home against Carolina could make for an interesting Saturday, April 11th regardless who is in the NCAA Championship game that evening at Verizon Center. Or it could just be a good day to watch the Division I College Championship game. For that one I'll be in nosebleed seats in section 424 at the "Phone Booth." I don't know who I'll be rooting for if anyone, but if they'll let me I'll be there with my Sunday WaPo and my chopping hand and "It's All Your Fault" chant at the ready. You have to keep some hockey traditions alive, even if you otherwise can't stand Don Cherry. No question that what happens between now and April 9th will mean the difference between having my undivided attention directed at the NCAA game in front of me or having one eye on the out of town scoreboard at Verizon Center and wondering why I didn't spend the money to go to Fort Lauderdale/Miami and watch the Caps season finale.
Last night ... oh yeah ... it's over time to use this stretch to look forward at the remaining 8 games and get ready for the next opponent - the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday at Maple Leaf Gardens. I wonder if Don Cherry will be there in person. Maybe they can kiss and make up like Ovie did with Malkin at the All-Star Game....
LETS GO CAPS!!!