The final week of the 2015-16 season is here. Three games remain after Tuesday night. The Caps clinched everything a week ago (Metropolitan, Eastern Conference and Presidents Trophy) and will get home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Canada will be shut out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the NHL-WHA merger in 1979 gave the NHL six Canadian teams and only the second time in history. The rapid decline of the Montreal Canadiens, after goaltender Carey Price went down to injury, has led to this scenario.
But who will the Capitals face? The scenarios are changing daily and here’s a look as of Tuesday what the matchups will most likely be.
(1) Washington Capitals Vs. (8) Philadelphia Flyers/Boston Bruins
The Washington Capitals wrapped up the top spot in the Eastern Conference and division last week. With 4 games remaining, the Caps can now start giving rest to whoever needs it. There are many potential opponents for the Caps in round 1 but it’s looking more and more like the Flyers or Bruins will get the nod unless the Red Wings slip.
The Flyers are playing inspired hockey after losing starting goaltender Michael Neuvirth for the remainder of the regular season with a meniscus tear in his knee. With 4 games (8 possible points) remaining, including a key matchup with the Red Wings Wednesday, points will matter. So far so good with Steve Mason, who has been solid enough for the Flyers to make a playoff run.
FINAL FOUR GAMES: 4/6 @Detroit; 4/7 Vs. Toronto; 4/9 Vs. Pittsburgh; 4/11 @NY Islanders
Chances of making the playoffs: Solid. If they beat Detroit and Toronto, they make their job easy. Lose to Detroit, they have to win to get in.
Claude Julien’s team is in trouble and it just might cost him his job. The Bruins are now on the outside looking in, one point out of the final playoff spot with three games remaining. Out of their last three games, two are winnable against teams far gone from the playoffs. However, going on a losing streak and only winning three of your last 10 will get you out of the playoffs pretty quick. The team’s blue line will need to shape up if Rask is to have a shot at leading his team to the postseason.
FINAL THREE GAMES: 4/5 Vs. Carolina; 4/7 Vs. Detroit; 4/9 Vs. Ottawa
Chances of making the playoffs: Tough but they have a chance. They have to win at least two of three and hope the Flyers or Red Wings choke down the stretch.
(2) Florida Panthers Vs. (7) New York Islanders
The surprise Florida Panthers have been injected with new life as 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr is playing some of his best hockey. He leads the team with 27 goals and looks to keep the Panthers fired up going into the post season. Goaltender Roberto Luongo is putting up solid numbers with a 33-19-6 record and 2.38 GAA.
The Islanders better wake up and right the sinking ship. Losing their last 4, they are within striking distance of both Detroit and Philly who want to steal their spot. With four games remaining, the Islanders have a chance to move up or at least solidify their seeding. Losing Halak for six weeks means Thomas Greiss needs to shine in net.
(3)Tampa Bay Lightning Vs. (6) Detroit Red Wings
The defending Eastern Conference Champs have done what they did in 2015: go through the season under the radar while being one of the best in the conference. However, with Steven Stamkos out 1-3 months with a blood clot in his arm, they lost their sniper and leading scorer. It’s going to make them struggle for offense in the playoffs.
The Red Wings are on the verge of extending the longest streak in modern sports to 25 years in a row of making the playoffs. This team though is missing the man behind the bench (Mike Babcock) and are an older team looking to get younger. The question is…which goalie do they stick with? All season it has been split between Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, with both putting up decent numbers.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. (5) New York Rangers
When it comes to the playoffs for the Rangers, look no further than Henrik Lundqvist. The man comes to play when the post-season arrives and he’s looking true to form. They are always a tough out.
The Penguins are playing outstanding hockey as of late, even without Evgeny Malkin. Without him the Pens have rattled off five wins in a row and Crosby is getting back to form with 31 goals and 45 assists. The coaching change part way through the season is looking pretty genius right now. Fleury continues to rack up the wins thanks to great defense in front of him. A series with the Rangers would be hard fought.
(1) Dallas Stars/St. Louis Blues Vs. (8) Minnesota Wild
The Dallas Stars, behind goaltender Kari Lehtonen, are scary good. Case in point, the 6-2 drubbing of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks a few weeks back. The number one scoring team in the NHL is looking for a deep run but the Western Conference is full of talent. It won’t be easy. Dallas is currently tied at 105 points with the Blues.
The Wild look to have a hold on the final playoff spot as Colorado losing to Washington all but sealed their fate. The Central Division in the Western Conference has five of the seven teams making the playoffs. Goalie Devan Dubnyk is in a skid as he has dropped three consecutive games and logged a .881 save percentage in those matchups. This cold stretch comes on the heels of a six-game winning streak in which the netminder was fantastic as he registered a 1.30 GAA. He will need to be that good to help his team beat a tough Dallas squad.
(2) Los Angeles Kings Vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
If we go in the order of the last four Stanley Cup champions, this is the Kings year right? The last four Stanley Cup champions have been Los Angeles or Chicago but this year it’s not a given. The Kings behind Jonathan Quick have a four point lead with nine games remaining in the Pacific Division. They are on pace to match the past few seasons of 100 and 95 point finishes.
The Sharks behind goaltender Martin Jones are in good position to better their seeding if they can get some points and have some help in their last nine games. Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski lead a good hockey club that when motivated can make a run in the playoffs.
(3) St. Louis Blues/Dallas Stars Vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
The Blues are the Tampa Bay Lightning of the Western Conference. They play great hockey but are quiet, not garnering as much attention. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has been rotating goaltenders Brian Elliot and Jake Allen all season. The last four games, Elliot has recorded three shutouts and is looking like a goaltender primed for a playoff run. Right winger Vladimir Tarasenko has notched 37 goals and 34 assists to lead the team in his third season. The Blues are currently tied with Dallas at 105 points for the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference.
The Blackhawks have won two of the last four Stanley Cups and are the defending champs. You can’t count them out but you also have the right to be concerned. The Hawks have dropped seven of their last 11 and look to have some injury issues. Center Marcus Kruger and goaltender Corey Crawford have been listed day-to-day with injuries. With eight games left, Chicago just needs to weather the storm and get in the playoffs.
(4) Anaheim Ducks Vs. (5) Nashville Predators
The Ducks, led by former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, have cooled off as of late. Certainly the hottest team since the break, Anaheim is first in the league in power play (23.1%) and penalty kill (86.9%). Goalies Frederick Andersen and John Gibson have shared duties throughout the season with both posting decent numbers.
The Nashville Predators with head coach Peter Laviolette continue to thrive after Barry Trotz departure to the Capitals at the start of last season. Their win over the Kings 5-2 a few weeks back is a warning to the Kings and the rest of the league to not sleep on them or you will pay the price. Former Capital Filip Forsberg has hit 31 goals and is showing why the Predators got the better end of the deal that sent Martin Erat and Michael Latta to the Caps.
Which matchup are you looking forward to?
Would you be fine with the Flyers or Bruins?
Let us know!
Rock the Red and Go Caps!