(Alex Brandon/AP)


The Southeast Division may be the brunt of jokes around the NHL, but it also might be home to the league’s most exciting playoff race down the stretch. Washington leads second-place Winnipeg by three points in the standings ahead of their game against one another Tuesday night at Verizon Center.

As of Monday, the Capitals would still be the No. 7 seed if they weren’t leading the division, based on their overtime and regulation wins (22). That, though, could change because Washington, the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers are all within one point or tied in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Jets are No. 9 in the Eastern Conference standings, and because the winner of the Southeast earns the No. 3 seed, we’ll focus on how Tuesday’s game could affect that. Washington’s magic number is currently four, meaning any four points gained by the Capitals or lost by Winnipeg would result in another Southeast Division title banner in Verizon Center.

Washington (25-18-2), 52 points
Games left: Winnipeg (Tues), Ottawa (Thurs), Boston (Sat)

Winnipeg( 23-19-3), 49 points
Games left: at Buffalo (Mon), at Washington (Tues), Montreal (Thurs)

Here how the Capitals can clinch the division Tuesday night:

If Winnipeg beats Buffalo in regulation or overtime Monday, the Capitals would clinch the Southeast Division with a regulation or overtime win over the Jets on Tuesday.

If Winnipeg loses in overtime or a shootout at Buffalo Monday, the Capitals would clinch the Southeast Division with a win of any kind Tuesday against Winnipeg.

If Winnipeg loses in regulation at Buffalo Monday, the Capitals would need a win in one of their final three games to clinch the Southeast Division.

There is no scenario in which the Capitals can clinch the Southeast Division Tuesday night with a loss of any kind to the Jets.