Two more teams in the Metropolitan Division secured their ticket to the playoffs in this past week. However, in this penultimate weekly snapshot of the Metropolitan Division of this season, the Washington Capitals remain on top. Their lead may not seem very large, but given how they’ve been playing and the fact that the season is nearly up, a small point lead is actually quite large. Still, there’s room for change at the top and there’s additional action occurring among the non-playoff teams.
Starting at the top, the Washington Capitals swept their last week. Three games, three wins, and a little more of a cushion over second place. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins did win their last week, but the Caps matched the Penguins’ output and surpassed the Blue Jackets by one point. If Washington can keep pace - and why not since they’re rather good - then they’ll take the Eastern Conference soon. Columbus and Pittsburgh have every incentive to try, if only to avoid a potential first round matchup with each other. Unfortunately, their best bet to change that is for one of them to jump Washington as that’s the team closest to them in the standings. If they can’t do that, then it’ll be all about trying to get home ice for that matchup; something Columbus has thanks to a superior ROW.
The New York Rangers are pretty much set. They split their last week with three out of six points. And that’s just fine. That first wild card spot is spoken for since they’re ten points ahead of the second wild card spot. A successful week coming might be enough to give them an ‘X’ in the standings.
As for the non-playoff teams, a new challenger has appeared in the hunt for the second wild card spot, which is now owned by Boston. With a record of 7-0-3 in their last ten games, it’s the Carolina Hurricanes. They took seven out of eight points and won their last three games in regulation. They’re five points back with two games in hand on Boston. So they’re in the picture. It may be too late since the Canes would still have to Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders. The Isles are no chumps. They’ve been battling for the same spot for weeks now and they did go 2-1 in this past week. That one loss was huge; a close one to Boston that kept the B’s in the wild card spot the Isles want. Both Carolina and the Isles will need to keep on winning and earning points since time is running out. If nothing else, they have something to play for.
Down near the bottom of the division are two teams who really do not. The Philadelphia Flyers were in the second wild card spot months ago but have steadily fell out of that spot with non-winning weeks. Like this past one where they went 2-2 in four games. Now they’re in an un-envious spot. They’re not anywhere near a realistic shot at the playoffs short of another crazy run. They’re not bad enough to fall for a really high draft pick. As for the New Jersey Devils, they have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday with a loss to Carolina and Boston’s win. They were practically eliminated a while back and have led the Race for 28th for a few weeks now. Now it’s official that’s all they have to play for. So let’s look at the race:
The rule I’ve been using is that any team with ten or more points ahead of 28th place is not in the race. Therefore, Florida, Philadelphia, and Carolina - who were in the race last week - have been removed. The race now has six teams.
The New Jersey Devils won one game - over Our Hated Rivals - and lost the other three. That was enough to stay in place. Now they have a small cushion in points thanks to Detroit earning three points, Vancouver getting four points, and Dallas nearly sweeping last week. The hope is that those three teams don’t just fall flat on their face. Detroit has an extremely busy week as they will be making up a game with Carolina that was previously postponed. They got an approval to play three in a row to make it up. So the possibility is that they can earn many more points over the other teams. But since they’re bad and they’ll be tired, that possibility may not be likely. Buffalo is on the fringe of this race, but I wouldn’t count them out. With only two games coming up, they’ll be holding steady in the standings for a number of days. Should the other teams win a few games, they could find themselves further ahead in the race by being idle. If the Devils start winning some games, this race will become a lot more interesting at the final snapshot next week. Especially if those wins come against tonight’s opponents Dallas and Tuesday’s make-up game with Winnipeg.
Speaking of schedules, here’s what is coming up for all eight teams in the Metropolitan Division in this week. Games within the division are in bold and games involving Race for 28th teams are in italics:
Let’s start from the bottom. The Devils will have two big Race for 28th games to start their week against Dallas and Winnipeg. Both will be at the Rock, though the Devils did play (and lose to) Carolina on Saturday. It’s not a guarantee that they’ll get points. At the end of the week, the Devils will be hitting the road while still being in the area. They’ll visit the Islanders and then the Flyers in a back-to-back set of games. Another poor week of results is possible, we’ll see what they’ll do.
As for the Philadelphia Flyers, they have a tough week ahead. They’ll visit their rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins today in a game that the Pens would love to take for their own standings race and bragging rights. The Flyers will then be at home for three home games: an Ottawa team who has their own desires in the Atlantic, an Islanders team that needs all the points they can get, and a Devils team that doesn’t and would have played the night before. Since the Devils have had the Flyers number this season, I wouldn’t assume that game is a gimmie.
The two playoff battlers have differing weeks. Carolina will make up that game in hand on the Islanders as they’ll make up a previously postponed game with Detroit. Those games with Detroit are in a rare home-home back-to-back set. The Canes will have a big obstacle on Thursday when Columbus comes to town. After then, they’ll host another lost-season team in Dallas. The Canes have been hot and while two of their three opponents have nothing to play for, they still need to win those games to be in the playoff picture. The Islanders are closer in said picture, although that loss to Boston hurt their cause big-time. They’ll have to make it up with three games comng up: a home game with Nashville and a big-for-them back-to-back with the Flyers and Devils. Like the Canes, they need points to stay involved. A bad week here may sink the Isles.
The New York Rangers will finish up their California road trip before hosting Pittsburgh on Friday. Their playoff position is just about secure, they just need to maintain their level of play and hope for no injuries between now and April 10. As for the Penguins, they may still have designs on first in the Metropolitan and so they have incentive to win. They’ll host their rival Flyers today, host a strong Chicago squad, and then go to Madison Sq. Garden on Friday. It’s not an easy week for them, but the Penguins haven’t been easy on their opponents so it works out. The Columbus Blue Jackets have an easier week on paper if only for hosting Buffalo. After that game, they have a tough back-to-back with a hungry Carolina team and then a very solid Chicago squad. Like the Penguins, they have the incentive and the Blue Jackets have proven to rise to their challenges in this season. While Pittsburgh and Columbus sort out where they are, the Washington Capitals will be out of town in this coming week. They’ll visit Minnesota before going to Denver the next night to play the woeful Avs. Their road trip will end on Friday to play the hapless Arizona squad. It’d be a surprise if the Caps dropped those last two games; that won’t stop Columbus, Pittsburgh, and others for hoping that it happens somehow.
That was the week that was in the Metropolitan Division and the week to come for all eight teams. There’s one more snapshot left in the season and it’ll include April 9. The Capitals remain at the top, but will the Blue Jackets or Penguins be able to knock them out right at the end? Can the Hurricanes keep on winning to make the second wild card race more interesting? Will the Isles wither after making gains with the Weight Room? Will the Devils survive as leaders in the Race for 28th for another 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.