As the hockey season winds down, much attention is given to the likely first-round pairings. What team would the Capitals least like to face, or whom would they match up with the best? Would Capitals fans like to see a Battle of Pennsylvania in the first round to ensure one of their fiercest rivals fall early — or perhaps see a black hole rip the fabric of reality and suck in both teams?
But the NHL regular season isn’t over yet; the games are not only opportunities to tune up for the playoffs, but seeding implications remain as well. So, let’s examine exactly who’s playing whom before the playoffs.
My good buddy Fred compiled a list of teams’ opponents for the remainder of the regular season; I’ve updated the schedules and rankings as of Sunday night:
Blue-ish squares indicate opponents currently playoff-bound. The Rangers have the toughest remaining slate, with all six games against playoff teams and three of those six on the road. Montreal, while facing a difficult lineup as well, plays three golfing-in-April teams and has one more game remaining than the Rangers. The five-six race is a one-point gap, with the Pens holding an extra game in hand and a roughly equivalent opponents as the Canes.
At the other end we find the Capitals, who face a grand total of zero playoff contenders. Of course, we all know that non-playoff teams revel in the spoiler role — too many past March-Aprils saw the Capitals playing to knock a playoff-grasping opponent out of contention, or at least down a few pegs.
So the task for Coach Boudreau is to keep the team focused and playing sound hockey despite the weak records of their remaining opponents, because home ice advantage is never something to take lightly. After all, every single team currently in a playoff spot has a noticeably better home record than away, and the Caps — while not as invulnerable at home as they once were — are still an impressive 27-9-2 at the Phone Booth.
Comparing the Caps’ remaining schedule to the Devils’, it seems Washington has the inside track for 2nd in the East — if they can stay focused, and beat the teams they should beat.
Let’s hope the Capitals hit this final stretch at full speed, and carry that mo’ deep into the playoffs.