Third place in the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions remain up for grabs as teams stumble towards the finish line. It means that for the New York Rangers, they can play a huge role in determining their first round opponent or have nothing to do with it.
The Washington Capitals lost badly to the Islanders, 5-1. They showed why they could be a vulnerable team in the playoffs as Vitek Vanecek allowed five goals on 26 shots and the Washington power play went 0-6 without Alex Ovechkin in the lineup.
What it means for tonight is that the Pittsburgh Penguins are in total control of their destiny. While the Capitals have to beat the Rangers in order to have any chance of finishing third, the Penguins host the Columbus Blue Jackets and all they need is one point to clinch third place. Here are the numbers:
- Pittsburgh 45-21-11 101 points, 36 RW, 42 ROW
- Washington 44-25-12 100 points, 35 RW, 39 ROW
If Washington and Pittsburgh both finish with 102 points, the first tiebreaker is regulation wins with the second tiebreaker regulation and overtime wins. The Penguins are one ahead in regulation wins and have three more regulation or overtime wins. That means that if the Penguins win or lose in overtime, the Capitals are done.
In the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins beat Buffalo 5-0 while the Tampa Bay Lightning dropped a 5-2 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets. That means that it’s a must win game tonight for Tampa at the Islanders in order to stay in third place if Boston can beat Toronto.
What it means for the Rangers
Since the Penguins control their own destiny, there is much less pressure for the Rangers to field their regulars for this game. The games in Pittsburgh and New York start at the same time and if the Penguins jump out to a big lead, the game at Madison Square Garden could become meaningless early.
There is one fact that is undeniable. The animosity between the two teams is still present and Tom Wilson is still playing for the Capitals. We’ve been waiting for the confrontation between Reaves and Wilson all season, but the long anticipated heavyweight bout has yet to happen.
With all that is at stake for the Capitals, you would expect Wilson to be on his best behavior tonight, but knowing his history, Wilson is a loose cannon and anything can happen, especially if he is goaded by the Rangers.
Who will play tonight? It still makes the most sense to keep the most vulnerable Rangers out of the lineup rather than risk injury against a desperate Capitals team. Stumbling into the playoffs on a four game losing streak isn’t great, but it’s better than risking injuries to their best players. There are a lot of options for New York when it comes to a lineup especially with the Hartford lineup at their disposal. The one definite is that Ryan Reaves should be in the lineup, as much as a deterrent to any shenanigans.
The last time the two teams played with full lineups the Rangers won handily, 4-1. If Washington ends up as the Rangers’ first round opponent, you can be sure that that is the game the Blueshirts will be looking at.
Let’s see what the Rangers do.