The Capitals are in control of their postseason destiny as they kick off the final week of the regular season tonight at Tampa Bay, but there is plenty still to be decided about what the matchups will look like when the playoffs begin on April 11.
“It’s the playoffs right now,” Alex Ovechkin said after Washington’s 3-2 shootout win over Montreal. “It start for us a long time ago.”
Washington can clinch a playoff berth a number of ways this week. With a win tonight against the Lightning combined with a loss by the Sabres on Tuesday against the Maple Leafs; with wins over Tampa Bay and the Florida Panthers on Thursday; or if Buffalo picks up two points or less in its final three contests.
In addition to being able to secure a playoff berth this week Washington remains in reach of the Southeast Division title, which comes with an automatic three-seed and home ice advantage in the first round.
Florida lost, 2-1, in a shootout to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday and sits three points ahead of the Capitals, with the same number of games remaining.
For Washington to capture the division title, one of two scenarios must play out: The Capitals would need wins tonight against Tampa Bay and Thursday in a head-to-head showdown with Florida combined with the Panthers losing in regulation to Winnipeg on Tuesday and Carolina on Saturday. Or the Capitals would need to win all three of their remaining games combined with a regulation loss by Florida to either Winnipeg or Carolina.
The Panthers can capture the Southeast with a win over Winnipeg on Tuesday if the Capitals lose in Tampa Bay tonight. Florida can also seal the division with wins over the Jets on Tuesday and in Washington Thursday.
After Ottawa punched its ticket to the postseason with a 5-1 win over the Islanders on Sunday, there are two playoff spots still up for grabs in the East. Here are the remaining schedules of the teams still vying for those spots:
Washington, 88 points, 36 regulation and overtime wins : Monday at Tampa Bay; Thursday vs. Florida; Saturday at N.Y. Rangers
Florida, 91 points, 31 ROW : Tuesday vs. Winnipeg; Thursday at Washington; Saturday vs. Carolina.
Buffalo, 86 points, 31 ROW : Tuesday vs Toronto; Thursday at Philadelphia; Saturday at Boston.