Post-Season Outlook for the Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals are desperately hanging onto the eighth spot in the Eastern conference, and every single point matters, so getting one point in a shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers  is not a complete disappointment. However, with the Buffalo Sabers and Winnipeg Jets nipping at Washington’s heels, and the Caps trying to catch the Florida Panthers to leap-frog into third place as the Southeast division leader, a win would’ve really been appreciated. The regular season comes to a close on April 7th, and all 30 teams will be in action on that day. I’ll be spending that entire evening glued to my lap-top, monitoring multiple games, as Washington’s post-season will most likely hang in the balance.

[caption id="attachment_138" align="alignright" width="314" caption="Eastern Conference standings, as of 3/23"]Eastern Conference Standings[/caption]

Everyone is still jockeying for position in the very close Eastern Conference. The New York Rangers, currently leading the Atlantic division, are only one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are in turn only four points head of the Flyers. The Northeast-leading

Boston Bruins lead the Ottawa Senators by three, and the Panthers have a four point advantage over the Capitals.  A lot can happen in two weeks, and the last few weeks always have the feeling of intensity of the playoffs before the post-season has even started. Despite the very malleable nature of the standings, I’m going to engage in some speculation about the Capitals’ possibilities this April.

1. If nothing were to change over the course of the next eight games, the Caps will face the New York Rangers in the first round. This will technically be a rematch of last year’s first round, but Washington is now on the other side of the looking glass. The Caps are not the dominant force they were a year ago, while the Rangers are having a very impressive season, and are winning the close games through grit and determination. This will be a tough series for the Caps.

2.  Washington could overtake the Panthers in the Southeast division, which would be their fifth consecutive division title. Everything else held constant, this would put them in third place, and they would face the New Jersey Devils, which admittedly, is not much better than facing the blue-shirts. The Devils are also having a very strong season, and are being led by Ilya Kovalchuk, who is having his most productive season since 2009. Patrick Elias, Zach Parise, and rookie Adam Henrique are also offensive threats.

3. If Washington overtakes both Florida and the Boston Bruins, who are currently six points ahead of the Caps, then Washington will find themselves in second in the conference, which will surely come as a shock to most. Given the current standings, this will pit the Caps against the Ottawa Senators. The Senators are generally a young-team, with the exception of veterans Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza. Eric Karlsson is having a career-season, and leads all blue-liners in points, while Milan Michalek is also having the most productive season of his career. The biggest uncertainty on Ottawa’s bench is that of their netminder. Craig Anderson is talented but inconsistent, and primary back-up Alex Auld is too inexperienced for high-pressure scenarios. This would be Washington’s best option, albeit the least likely so far.

4. Another possibility is that Washington will pass Ottawa but not Florida, and end the season in seventh. This would have them facing off against the second seed, which is currently the Bruins, the defending champions. Boston has not quite lived up to expectations, but they came into last year’s post-season as the third seed and not on many people’s radars as a contender for the Stanley Cup.  Their roster is mostly the same as the championship squad of 2011, with the exception of an injured Tuukka Rask, and a Tim Thomas who hasn’t been performing like the Tim Thomas of yore.

5. The last, and most horrible possibility, is that either Buffalo or Winnipeg will overtake Washington, bumping them out of the playoffs. This would be Washington’s first time not qualifying for the post-season since 2007, and my first time crying since almost as long. However, we’ll cross that awful, awful bridge if we come to it.

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