The Stanley Cup champions are headed to the playoffs once again. Right?
While that feels like a given, the Washington Capitals have not actually clinched a postseason berth with two weeks to go in the regular season.
By beating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 Sunday, the Capitals maintained a one-point lead in the Metropolitan Division over the New York Islanders, who also won Sunday. Here are the Metro standings as of March 25:
- Capitals - 96 points (40 Regulation and Overtime Wins), 76 games played
- Islanders - 95 points (40 ROW), 76 GP
- Penguins - 93 points (39 ROW), 76 GP
- Hurricanes - 91 points (40 ROW), 75 GP
The top three in each division clinch a playoff spot. Yet because of how tight the top of the Metro is, if Washington were to lose a few games, the team could free-fall to fourth place and have to tussle for a wild card berth.
The Eastern Conference wild card race looks like this:
- Wild Card 1: Hurricanes - 91 points (40 ROW), 75 GP
- Wild Card 2: Canadiens - 88 points (38 ROW), 76 GP
- Blue Jackets - 86 points (40 ROW), 75 GP
- Flyers - 80 points (34 ROW), 76 GP
If the season ended today, the Capitals would face the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Because the Tampa Bay Lightning have clinched the best record in the NHL, we know they will face the East’s second wild card and the Metro champ will face the No. 1 wild card.
The Capitals and Hurricanes play Tuesday in Washington and Thursday in Raleigh, North Carolina. A pair of regulation wins for the Capitals would create plenty of separation, but even then they would need some other “help” in the division for that to clinch a playoff berth.
But say the Islanders eke out the Metro title. Then, the Capitals will be the No. 2 or No. 3 in the division, and a first-round date with the Penguins would seem likely.