The Washington Capitals will be in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That hasn’t really been a question for some time. But in the ultra-competitive East Division, playoff placement is very much in question.
The Capitals (32-14-5, 69 points) visit the New York Rangers Monday night sitting in second place, two points behind Pittsburgh after dropping two straight to the Penguins. The top four teams make the playoffs; they are separated by just five points and fourth-place Boston has the most games (six) remaining.
Washington needs to rack up points over their next four games (two each against the fifth-place Rangers and sixth-place Flyers) before its season finale against Boston. Home-ice advantage over at least the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is up for grabs.
The Capitals could get a roster boost Monday. Forward Alex Ovechkin, who has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury) and defenseman John Carlson (two games with a lower body) have returned to practice.
“We miss two good players, best in the league in their position,” defenseman Dmitry Orlov said. “We just keep going on right now when they are out but hopefully they gonna come back sooner because that’s going to be a huge help for us. We have big games coming up, we have to play hard and build confidence before playoffs.”
On Saturday, the Capitals were shut out by the Penguins, 3-0. They went 2-2-4 in the regular season against the Penguins and could see them again in the playoffs.
“Tonight … it was definitely not volume. It was a couple things that happened and they got a couple really good looks and they put it in,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “That’s pretty much the way it’s been, for me. Every game’s looked the same. If we see them in the playoffs, it will look the same.”
Meanwhile, the Rangers (26-20-6, 58 points) enter the game with their playoff hopes ready to be ended. They sit fifth in the East, eight points behind the Bruins with four games remaining. Boston has two games in hand. Any point New York loses or Boston gains would knock the Rangers out of the playoffs.
“We played the Islanders these last two and we’ve got Washington and Boston, so obviously we’re playing playoff teams and teams that have aspirations to win a Stanley Cup,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “We need to measure ourselves against them. That’s what we’re trying to get to. So we need to compete.”
Right now scoring a goal would be progress. The banged-up Rangers were shut out by Semyon Varlamov and the Islanders in back-to-back games, 4-0 at Madison Square Garden Thursday and 3-0 at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.
On Saturday, the Rangers played without forwards Chris Kreider (lower body) and Brett Howden (foot), and defensemen Ryan Lindgren (upper body) and Jacob Trouba (upper body). All are considered day-to-day except for Howden, who is out for the remainder of the season.
The Rangers outshot the Islanders 28-25 on Saturday, but couldn’t get anything past Varlamov, who shut them out for the fourth time this season. New York took a 1-0 on Anthony Beauvillier’s goal at 4:39 of the first period and led 2-0 after one.
“I actually thought it was better than Thursday,” Quinn said. “I thought we were much more competitive, we had some chance. Obviously, they get out to that early lead, first five or six minutes we’re on our heels.”
The Rangers have held their own against Washington this season, winning four of the first six contests.
–Field Level Media