There is no question the Capitals will finish first in the Eastern Conference. It who is going to come in eighth to face them that is the real question. The Caps have a chance to face up to four different teams depending on how the rest of the season shakes out. The Boston Bruins (84), Philadelphia Flyers (84), New York Rangers (82) and Atlanta Thrashers (81) are all fighting for the last spots into the playoffs and a chance to play the Washington Capitals.
So let's take a look at these four teams and how they have matched up with the Capitals through the past season. Unlike the Rangers and Flyers, the Bruins and Thrashers still have games remaining on their schedule against the Caps (Bruins 2 games left, Thrashers 1 game left). All bring unique challenges to the Capitals come post season.
The Caps have yet to play this team post trade deadline, so until we see them in action, there is no real way of figuring out how either team will fare in the post season against one another. To gauge how these two teams will match up, we will have to go on nearly season old data and how each team has been playing lately.
When I think of the Bruins, I think of Zdeno Chara and a pretty good defensive core. When Tuukka Rask plays his best, the Bruins are a tough team to score against. There troubles come on the offensive end of the game. The lose of Marc Savard hurt them pretty bad and they are not getting the output from others like they did a year ago when they won the Eastern Conference.
The first meeting between these two was a 4-1 win for the Caps as the two faced off to open the season in October. Alex Ovechkin had two goals and Brooks Laich scored a pair of power play goals. The second meeting didn't come until February where the exact same result 4-1.
If the two were to meet in the post season, I highly doubt the Bruins have the offensive punch to match the Caps. The only way the Bruins have a chance is to lock down defensively and wait out the Caps onslaught. And that could lead to a frustrated Washington squad. I highly doubt the Bruins could shut down the Capitals for long.
We will have a better idea how these two teams match up as they play their final two games of the season in the next two weeks.
The Flyers have a goaltending problem, they just can't stay healthy in net. The Caps and Flyers have a post season history, and it would probably be one of the most watched series outside a second match up between the Penguins and Caps.
The Flyers won the first game of the season series as Danny Briere scored the OT winner 6-5. After that the Caps handled the Flyers with little trouble winning 4-2, 8-2, and 5-3. Ovechkin scored on his 2,000 career shot on a penalty shot on Ray Emery the last time these two teams faced each other.
This first round match up will be a physical one as the Flyers will try a intimidate the Captials since they can't really match the Caps potent offense. Role players like Scott Walker, Jason Chimera and Matt Bradley will have to go to work defending their team's top players.
If the Flyers aren't looking to take Alex Semin and Ovechkin's heads off, they will be trying to get at the Caps defensive core and should take a few penalties in the process. The Caps power play will play an important role in a series like this, and the way the Flyers goaltenders look shaky that will not bode will for them.
New York Rangers
Another team the Capitals have some history with. The Rangers bring another good defensive squad. They also bring a lot more speed than any of the other teams. They have some scoring threat with Marion Gaborik and if Henrik Lundqvist is playing his best it could be another hard series for the Capitals.
The Rangers won the first game in the season series 4-3, then lost the next three to the Caps 4-2, 6-5 and 2-0. The Rangers were one of the teams that were beat by the Caps during their long win streak in January.
If these two teams meet in the post season in the first round, look for the Rangers to attempt to block just about every shot the Caps try to take. If they are not blocking shots, then Sean Avery will be trying to get a burr under Mike Green's butt. There should be plenty of left over emotion from the last time these two met in the post season.
While the Rangers will try to shut down Ovechkin by blocking shots, the Caps found away around it last time. I don't see any reason why they wouldn't again. If they can get some solid goaltending from either Semyon Varlamov or Jose Theodore and the defense holds up the Caps should have a better result.
The Thrashers were essentially sellers at the trade deadline. They unloaded Ilya Kovalchuk and the sudden loss in weight gave the Thrashers a bit of life. They are normally an aggressive team, but have found a good balance of offense and defense to make a run to the playoffs.
The Caps will play the Thrashers Monday night to finish off the season series and are going for the season sweep of their division rivals. The Caps have won the previous five games 5-2, 8-1, 4-3, 5-4 and 2-1.
The Capitals have had some heated exchanges with their divisional foes. But the Caps have dominated the team this season, with or without Kovalchuk. But they are a handful if Nik Atropov and Maxim Afinogenov decide to poor on the offensive talent. The bottom line is though, Ilya Kovalchuk is still the Thrashers top scorer this season and he isn't on the team.
If these two were to face each other in the first round, Atlanta will have play more defense than offense. They just can not play an open aggressive style of play with the Caps. They have lost that way before.
Who would you like?
Of the four teams and the possible outcomes the team I would like for the Caps meet in the first round would probably be the Boston Bruins. The Bruins will be limping into the post season playing the least consistently. Having Marc Savard out of the line up hurts the Bruins offensive threat, but the team is still dangerous because of their defensive play. It should be a hard fought first series that would be good for the Capitals to get their offense some confidence.
The Thrashers would not be a challenge enough for the Caps to prep them for tougher battles down the road. The Rangers have some settling to do from a season ago and could be dangerous if they get on a roll. The Flyers might wear the Caps down and test their depth if they start getting the injury bug. Boston just seems like the right fit for the Caps.