Push for the Playoffs: Caps look to pad lead atop Metropolitan Division

Joey Alfieri
NBC Sports

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

If you were expecting a Stanley-Cup hangover from the Washington Capitals, you were wrong. Heading into the final stretch of the season, the Capitals have a two-point lead over the New York Islanders atop the Metropolitan Division standings.

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As of right now, finishing in top spot in the division means that you’d get a date with the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes, who probably won’t be an easy out. But it also allows you to avoid playing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and company in Pittsburgh. That’s a first-round matchup no one would look forward to at all.

“We’re in this position and we have to take care of business,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said after last night’s win over the Devils, per NHL.com. “You can’t rely on other teams. We just have to try to win and go from there. So this is a good win for us.”

Tonight’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, have been the best record in the league and they’ve already clinched their division, their conference and the President’s Trophy. Even though they have nothing to play for, this will be a good measuring stick game for a Caps team that may be playing their best hockey right now.

“We just need to keep getting better,” forward Brett Connolly said. “We have [the Tampa Bay Lightning] coming in (tonight). They played us well in Tampa and I don’t think we did ourselves any favors in (a 6-3 loss Saturday). It’ll be good to get right back out there. We’re getting closer to the playoffs. It’s getting closer, and we are really excited about what we have here.”

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Flames vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Maple Leafs at Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Lightning at Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, live stream)
Senators at Canucks, 10 p.m. ET
Jets at Ducks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, live stream)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Playoff Percentages (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Capitals — 100 percent
Islanders — 99.2 percent
Penguins — 97.1 percent
Hurricanes — 96.2 percent
Blue Jackets — 69.6 percent
Canadiens — 36.3 percent
Flyers — 1.4 percent
Panthers — 0.2 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Playoff Percentages (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Jets — 100 percent
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 99.9 percent
Blues — 99.3 percent
Stars — 95.3 percent
Coyotes — 50.6 percent
Avalanche — 25.6 percent
Wild — 16 percent
Blackhawks — 11.4 percent
Canucks — 0.9 percent
Oilers — 0.9 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Oilers — 6.5 percent
Sabres — 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Wild — 3 percent
Panthers — 2.5 percent
Avalanche — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 117 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 105 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 101 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 92 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 92 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 40 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 38 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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