The Likely Difference Between Finishing Third and Second In the Eastern Conference
Sunday was a two point afternoon for the Washington Capitals, and with those two point the Capitals moved one game closer to finishing the season in second place in the Eastern Conference. On Friday night the Capitals managed to garner a single point and ensure they would win the Southeast Division. Next, on Saturday the results by Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Carolina made it a virtual certainty the Caps would finish with no less than a third seed throughout the Eastern Conference playoff rounds. So you have to be wondering does it really matter - third versus second seed through the conference playoffs and the answer is most probably - YES. A second seed guarantees home ice advantage through the first two rounds and the only way the Caps don't have home ice for the Conference Finals is if they face Boston. That may indeed be the case - however, the Capitals record against the Bruins this regular season has been 3-0-1 so that would seem to indicate the Caps match up pretty well with the "B"s, especially given the season the Bruins have put together. To be sure a Conference Final between Washington and Boston would be exciting, physical hockey, BUT the Caps have to get there first. If the season ended tomorrow the Caps would be the second seed and would face the seven seed Montreal Canadiens. However, if the Caps dropped to third and everything else remained the same they would face the six seed Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps are3-1-0 against the Canadiens and 3-0-1 against the Pens, however the Caps have seemed to match up better against the Canadiens and control the pace of play better. Also right now the Canadiens are struggling for Wins while the Pens are cruising into the playoffs with a great record over their last month and a hot goaltender. Also given the rivalry and the size of the rosters, the Caps are likely to come out of a series against the Canadiens with less injuries.
Assuming the Caps finish in second and win their first round and all four top seeds win their first round, finishing second would make the second round series a Caps - Devils series and the Caps would have home ice if a game seven were necessary. The Caps are 2-0-2 versus the Devils but both wins came against Scott Clemmensen, the only game this season the Caps played the Devils and faced Martin Broudeaur was on October 18th and resulted in a 4-3 shootout loss. The Caps and Devils have slugged it out in 3 out of 4 meetings this regular season and both Marty Brodeaur's return from surgery and home ice advantage will likely play a part in who would take away the win in a series between the two. If the Devils don't get through round 1, home ice could be even bigger for the Caps as that would mean they would likely face either Philadelphia or Carolina with home ice advantage while Boston takes on Pittsburgh.
If the Caps finish third they will likely face the Penguins who look on course to finish sixth. A Pittsburgh - Washington series will be fun to watch but it will likely beat up both teams. Assuming the Caps win a 3-6 matchup they would then face either the Devils, Flyers or Hurricanes in the second round, However if they face the Devils in this instance they would not have a home ice advantage.
The Caps are 0.744 at home and will finish with an away record of between 0.524 and 0.598 - that's not an insignificant difference. Home ice, if it makes any difference, will be a good thing for the Capitals. Finishing second in the conference greatly increases the chances the Capitals will have home ice advantage through the Conference Playoffs. That's something worth working towards, besides I want to watch as much live playoff hockey as I can this spring.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!