Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 4/7/12

Just over one month ago, an article entitled “The Washington Capitals — The Most Inconsistent Team Still In the Running” appeared on the pages of isportsweb.  Much to the surprise of this correspondent, despite continuing lack of consistent play down the stretch, the Capitals find themselves with a guaranteed playoff berth following a 4-2 victory over the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers coupled with a Buffalo Sabres loss to the Flyers on the same evening.  This entry into the playoff picture has many Caps fans ecstatic over the continuation of hockey in the Nation’s capital for another couple of weeks at a minimum — while others are concerned that making the playoffs will only serve to convince the team that showing up only on the days you feel like it is not a problem since you’ll make the playoffs regardless.

What do the playoffs portend for Washington?  We’ll have a better feel in the next day or two, but right now we know the following:

  • The most likely scenario is that Capitals will face the NY Rangers in the first round.  The Rangers are currently tied for the race for the President’s Cup with 109 points resulting from 51 wins.  So far this year, the Capitals are 1-2 against New York, having split the pair played in the Verizon Center and facing the Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden for the final game of the regular season.
  • If the Capitals win in regulation and Florida loses in regulation to Carolina this evening, the Capitals will win the Southeast Division and face the #6 seed, the New Jersey Devils.
  • A third possibility is that if the Capitals win in regulation and Florida ties or wins and Ottawa loses to New Jersey in regulation, the Capitals would move into the seventh seed and end up facing the Boston Bruins in the first round.
  • Regardless of which of these possibilities becomes reality, the Capitals will enter the playoffs, with goalie concerns.  Tomas Vokoun is listed as day-to-day following recurrence of a lower body injury.  Given that Vokoun has performed substantially better than Michal Neuvirth in both average goals against and save percentage (although he’s in the middle of the pack when compared to all NHL goalies), the Capitals will have to play better defense than they have been to be successful in the playoffs.
  • Washington needs Nicklas Backstrom to return to his pre-injury scoring pace.  On the evening of his injury on January 3rd, #19 tallied three assists and was, at that time, in the top ten in the league in that category.  Since returning on March 31st, he’s yet to score a point.
  • The Capitals need their Captain to step up and lead — both on and off the ice.  When he’s playing 100%, the team senses it and it helps to raise their game.  When he’s missing easy passes and making half-hearted waves of his stick while on defense, they sense that too — and the whole team suffers.

Tonight’s game has the potential to tell us a lot about Washington’s likely performance in the playoffs.  Let’s hope that all the indications are positive.

Let’s Go Caps!

 

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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