The Capitals clinched a playoff berth and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with their 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, but their first-round opponent has yet to be determined.
Toronto, Ottawa, the New York Islanders and New York Rangers, the Eastern Conference’s Nos. 5-8 teams, are separated by three points heading into the final games of the NHL’s regular season, and each could potentially finish in sixth place. So while the standings might still shift, let’s take a look at each of those teams and how they fared against the Capitals this season.
New York Islanders
Record: 24-17-6, 54 points, 20 ROW.
Current seed: eighth.
Remaining schedule: Friday at Buffalo.
Record vs. Capitals this season: 2-0-1.
The Islanders return to the postseason after a five-year absence and have been one of the most consistent teams in the final month of the regular season. New York suffered its first regulation loss in April on Thursday night and is and is 8-1-3 in its past 12 games heading into Friday’s regular season finale.
It will be 22-year-old center John Tavares’s first trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs and it will be interesting to see how the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft fares in the heated spring environment.
Tavares’s team-high 28 goals and 47 points have earned him Hart Trophy consideration, and a significant part of any winning strategy against the Islanders will be finding a way to limit Tavares and linemates Matt Moulson (15 goals, 44 points) and Brad Boyes (10 goals, 25 points).
New York’s top line is far from its only dangerous offensive threat, though. The second unit of Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey has combined for 21 goals and 72 points this season.
Against the Capitals: While the Islanders have been the oft-forgotten member of the Atlantic Division in recent seasons, they tend to give Washington fits. New York is 4-3-4 against the Capitals in the past three seasons, but eight of those 11 games were one-goal contests.
This season, the Islanders earned a 5-2 win on March 9 at the Nassau County Memorial Coliseum when they took advantage of an undisciplined third period by Washington. On March 26, New York claimed a 3-2 win at Verizon Center thanks to late-game gaffes by Brooks Laich and Mike Green.
Then, on April 4 in the final regular season meeting between the two teams, Washington captured a 2-1 shootout victory that allowed it to move into first place in the Southeast Division for the first time this season.
The fancy stats take from Neil Greenberg: Secondary scoring has been a big reason why the Islanders secured their first playoff berth since the 2006-07 season. Okposo, Bailey and Nielsen have combined to light the lamp six times over the past 10 games, giving the Islanders two forward trios (Moulson-Tavares-Boyes) in the top 20 for even-strength goals scored this season. It’s not just the front-line skaters who are chipping in: the blueline tandem of Travis Harmonic and Andrew McDonald has 19 points, good enough to be in the top ten among defensive pairs this year.
Video flashback: It certainly wasn’t the Capitals’ shining moment, but the game-winning goal Tavares scored on March 26 was a key example of how the speedy New York squad can take advantage of an opponent’s mistake before they have a chance to recover.