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Playoff seeding up in air as Capitals visit Rangers

Sportsnaut
Mar 22, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Capitals right wing Anthony Mantha (39) advances the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

While the Washington Capitals know they are in the postseason, they might spend Friday night’s visit to the New York Rangers sneaking an occasional peak at an out-of-town scoreboard to see how the Pittsburgh Penguins are doing.

Washington (44-25-12, 100 points) will head into the postseason as the Eastern Conference’s second wild card team or as the third-place team in the Metropolitan Division. Finishing as the second wild card sends them into a series with the Florida Panthers, and finishing third in the division grants them a meeting with the Rangers (51-24-6, 108).

Washington is one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who own 45 wins and 36 regulation wins — one more than the Capitals. The Penguins close their season Friday by hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets in a game that starts at the same time as Washington’s visit to New York.

Whomever the opponent next week, the Capitals would like to head into the postseason playing better.

Washington went 6-1-0 from April 6-18, a stretch where they beat the Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Since then the Capitals are 1-2-2 in their past five contests and are coming off consecutive lopsided losses to the New York Islanders.

“We need to have a great game (Friday),” Washington’s Anthony Mantha said. “Just for the confidence level, for ourselves heading into the playoffs … just finish with a strong game and that is going to help us.”

After enduring a 4-1 home loss on Tuesday, Washington went 0-for-6 on the power play and took a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday night in Elmont, N.Y.

Leading scorer Alex Ovechkin missed both games with an upper-body injury sustained in the third period of Sunday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. His status for Friday night is unclear.

New York likely will treat its finale as a postseason rehearsal and rest several core players. After losing a chance to clinch the Metropolitan Division with Tuesday’s 4-3 home loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers dropped a 4-3 decision to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday when they lost on a goal by Jeff Petry with 30.7 seconds remaining in regulation.

With their playoff seeding secured, the Rangers made Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba and Mika Zibanejad healthy scratches. New York also sat Artemi Panarin (upper-body injury) and Andrew Copp (lower body) after they exited Tuesday’s loss to the Carolina Hurricanes to injuries.

“They should be fine,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said of Panarin and Copp. “We’re being cautious.”

The best news from Wednesday was no further injuries from those who played, including Kaapo Kakko, who missed the previous four games with a lower-body injury and also missed 31 games with a reported wrist injury.

If forward Chris Kreider sits, he will finish with 52 goals, two shy of the team record set by Jaromir Jagr in the 2005-06 season that snapped New York’s run of seven straight non-playoff seasons.

No matter who is on the ice, the Rangers will be looking to avoid a season-high fourth straight regulation loss. Their last win came April 21 at the Islanders.

The teams traded lopsided wins in the first two meetings of the season. Washington cruised to a 5-1 win on home ice in the season opener on Oct. 13, and the Rangers recorded a 4-1 win on Feb. 24.

–Field Level Media