Congratulations to the Washington Capitals. They have clinched the first playoff spot in the NHL and maintained control of the Metropolitan Division after another week. Getting that ‘Y’ in the standings will be much harder as first place is anything but decided with three full weeks remaining. They are far from safe from securing that playoff matchup with the second wild card spot owner in the East - which is also up for grabs. Here is how the standings look after Saturday’s games ended:
The Capitals were the first to 100 points and did so with a positive week of results. It was crucial to get those points if only to stay in first place. The Columbus Blue Jackets are right behind them and swept last week. The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t that far away either, although they lost a little ground to Columbus by splitting last week in terms of points. Both the Blue Jackets and Penguins will use up their game in hand on the Caps in this coming week. If you’re looking for a playoff race, there’s one happening at the top of the division. The winner gets the second wild card holder as an opponent. The two losers get each other in the first round. It’s pretty big.
Speaking of the second wild card holder, the New York Islanders are currently on the outside looking in. Toronto (79 points, 70 games) has it right now and the Tampa Bay Lightning (77 points, 71 games) are the only ones really fighting for that spot. And it’s just that spot as the New York Rangers have it safely locked up. The Rangers took care of enough business to take five points out of eight in this past week. They should be more than fine to stay there - and a hot streak might get them back into the top three. Although, would you want to play another Metropolitan Division team as a third place team or play the Atlantic Division winners in the Rangers’ current spot? Going back to the Isles, as impressive as it is that they came back within this season to be in a serious playoff race, they need to do better to stay in that race. Getting one out of four points against Carolina hurt amid a week with only one win out of four games. Toronto has a game in hand, so it’s critical for the Isles to get positive results the rest of the way.
Speaking of Carolina, how do you like them now? They’ve been in the basement for so much of this season, but thanks to the fall of Philadelphia and some better play from them, they’re now in a more respectable spot. They’re not just playing the spoiler role, they’ve been active in it. They smacked down the Isles 8-4, took them beyond regulation the next night, and then won against Minnesota (!) and Nashville (St. Louis probably liked that). The Canes haven’t been doormats despite what their record suggests. And so they’re in sixth in the division. As for the Flyers, well, at least they had that long winning streak earlier in the season. But they’ve had so many lackluster weeks where they needed to get points, didn’t get them, and now they’re long shots for the postseason at best. Losing to New Jersey in this past week certainly hurt, but it was the latest blow in a decline for a few months. Now they’re behind the Canes and seven points back with twelve games left to play. You could have had it so much better, Philly, but you are who you are. The New Jersey Devils remain owners of the last spot in the Metropolitan. Being eight points back this late in the season makes it likely they’ll finish last. It’s not exactly a surprise to anyone who’s watched this team since December or so. Still, the Devils finally ended their ten-game losing streak by beating the Flyers. The March 16 victory was their first win since February 18. They followed that up by losing in regulation the next night in Pittsburgh. At this point, all I can say is: “oh, well.” By the way, the Devils did have a game against Winnipeg scheduled on Tuesday but a blizzard postponed it to March 28 - which is now an eight point week.
The Devils winning a game did give them two points but the rest of the league helped out to make sure they remained in 28th in the NHL. So the Devils remain the leaders in the Race for 28th.
While Philadelphia and Carolina aren’t likely to be playoff teams either, they’re both far away enough that they may not harsh the Devils’ 28th-place mellow. Carolina’s big week If you want the Devils to take that spot, then you should be more concerned with what Winnipeg (3 out of 4 points last week helps), Detroit (two wins last week also helps), Dallas (only one win and three decisive losses last week), and Vancouver ( ) does going forward. By the way, the Devils have games against each except for Vancouver in their remaining twelve games. The Devils could earn more points than either in this coming week so Sherman Abrams and his colleagues should hope the Devils don’t become more successful in this week.
By the way, Arizona is in 29th with 61 points in 70 games. Could this become a Race for 29th? Sure, if Arizona somehow plays competent hockey and gains a bunch of results to move up in the league standings. I don’t think they’re suddenly going to do that in the final three weeks of the season after failing to do so in the previous four to five months. Stranger things have happened, though. We’ll see.
What is coming up in this week? More games within the division and some big games for others in six of the next seven days. Here’s the upcoming schedule. Games in bold are within the division and games in italics will affect the Race for 28th.
Let’s start from the top. Washington will get a chance to cool off Calgary’s playoff hopes, pour some more misery on Arizona, and host a big game against Columbus. That Thursday night game may be huge for the Caps wanting to stay in first. Columbus will be a bit tired for that one, as they’ll host Toronto the night before that matchup - which certainly won’t be easy as Toronto is playing for something. The Blue Jackets will have to avoid being spoiled today at New Jersey and on Saturday against Philly. The third-place Pittsburgh Penguins will try to string some wins in this coming week. They have two lesser opponents in Florida and Buffalo first before a back-to-back featuring Ottawa (who are jockeying for position in the Atlantic) and the Islanders. Should the Blue Jackets and/or Capitals stumble, the Pens can take advantage. They should be able to have a better week than last week in theory. We’ll see whether they do or not.
The two New York squads will tangle with each other on Wednesday night. Pretty much every game is important for the Islanders at this point. A rivalry game only multiplies that and they’ll have three days to prepare for it. The Rangers get to play the Devils the night before, which may help the Isles. I would think they’ll want NJ to make that game a long win. After that Wednesday matchup, the Rangers will head to Los Angeles for a road trip through California. The Islanders will get a tough back-to-back with Pittsburgh and Boston. All the while, the Isles will also have to watch what Toronto and Tampa Bay does. The Rangers, well, they can just worry about their next game.
Going down the Race for 28th-ers, Carolina and Philadelphia will play today in what could determine the inside track for sixth in the division. Both will play another Race-for-28th game on Tuesday; Carolina will visit Florida while the Flyers head up to Winnipeg. Philadelphia arguably has a harder second half of the week with road games in Minnesota and Columbus. Sure, going to Montreal won’t be easy for the Canes, but they’ll get the Devils on Saturday. The hope by then will be that Canes have remained somewhat successful in terms of getting points. The Flyers, well, I suppose they’ll just try to salvage pride. Lastly, the Devils will host Columbus this afternoon before hosting Our Hated Rivals and visiting Lou Lamoriello’s squad on Thursday before hosting Carolina. Tank or no tank, I’d like to think that the Devils fans will want a win over the Rangers more than anything else on Tuesday. Win that one and, well, who cares if they lose their other home games this week or that game in Toronto? OK, Islanders fans will be hoping for a Devils win on Thursday, but whatever.
That was the week that was in the Metropolitan Division and the week to come for all eight teams. The Capitals secured a playoff spot, but can they stay in first place for another week? Will the Isles fend off Tampa Bay and surpass Toronto? Can the Canes stay hot? Now that they won a game last week, will the Devils remain the leaders in the Race for 28th in this week? Please let me know your answers and other thoughts about what the eight teams did in the division last week and what they may do this week in the comments. Thank you for reading.