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Friday Four: Capitals not slowing down

NHL Network's Kevin Weekes also discusses Rangers-Canadiens, Penguins-Blue Jackets playoff matchups

by Kevin Weekes @kevinweekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.

 

Washington Capitals

The Capitals clinched the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and Presidents' Trophy earlier this week. They're the first back-to-back winner of the trophy given to the team with the League's best record since the Vancouver Canucks in 2010-11 and 2011-12. But Washington is hoping to do something the Canucks couldn't: win the Stanley Cup.

The Capitals are rolling; they've won nine of 10 games and look like a team without many weaknesses. They rank in the top five in goals for, goals against and power-play percentage, and are in the top 10 in penalty-killing percentage.

They have five players who have scored at least 50 points, led by Nicklas Backstrom (85 points; 23 goals, 62 assists), and five players who have scored at least 23 goals. The fact that the Capitals don't have to rely on Alex Ovechkin as much is a huge deal for them. Also, Braden Holtby has backed up his Vezina Trophy-winning season in 2015-16 with another fine performance (42-12-6, 2.08 goals-against average, .925 save percentage, nine shutouts).

Video: NYR@WSH: Holtby flashes the leather to deny Klein

 

Boston Bruins

It didn't always look like it was going to be the case, but the Bruins clinched a playoff spot for the first time in three seasons. After failing to be consistent under longtime coach Claude Julien, the Bruins have turned it around under Bruce Cassidy, going 18-7-1.

The Bruins have used offense and defense to trigger the turnaround. Tuukka Rask has continued to be lights out in goal with 37 wins, a 2.25 GAA and eight shutouts. What's also been nice for them is that they've gotten better play out of their backups, which had been a problem for much of the season. Anton Khudobin has won six straight starts, which has allowed Rask to get some much-needed rest heading into the playoffs.

On offense, it's been David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. Pastrnak has 70 points (34 goals, 36 assists), including 24 power-play points as well as three shorthanded goals. Marchand has 85 points (39 goals, 46 assists) and was on pace for 40 goals before being suspended for the final two games of the regular season.

Video: FLA@BOS: Marchand roofs a rebound for PPG

 

Rangers-Canadiens

Two of the four Eastern Conference First Round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set. One is the New York Rangers against the Montreal Canadiens. The teams met in the Eastern Conference Final in 2014, won by the Rangers in six games, and many players from each side still remain.

This will be an interesting matchup, pitting the speed of the Rangers (Michael Grabner, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider) against the physicality of the Canadiens (Andrew Shaw, Alexander Radulov, Shea Weber). Each team also has plenty of skill and depth offensively.

And let's not forget the world-class goalie matchup between Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price. A series with two Original Six teams battling for a spot in the second round should be very entertaining.

Video: MTL@BUF: Price flashes the leather to rob Deslauriers

 

Penguins-Blue Jackets

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets have battled all season in the Metropolitan Division and have been very evenly matched. The Penguins will have home ice against the Blue Jackets; that could make the difference, because each of these teams does well at home. Pittsburgh is 31-6-4; Columbus is 28-12-1.

The Penguins have more speed up and down their lineup than almost any team. They also have tremendous depth. The fact that Evgeni Malkin (who is nearing a return from injury) is the second-line center tells you how good the team is. Pittsburgh is the highest-scoring team in the League (273 goals).

Despite having a lot of injuries on defense this season (Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley), the Penguins have made it work, with guys stepping up in their absence.

The Blue Jackets rank seventh in the League in scoring (242 goals) thanks to Cam Atkinson (34 goals) and the resurgence of captain Nick Foligno (50 points; 26 goals, 24 assists) after a down season in 2015-16. With eight players who have scored at least 40 points, Columbus can spread the scoring around.

Don't forget Vezina Trophy candidate Sergei Bobrovsky. He has 41 wins, a 2.02 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and seven shutouts. Bobrovsky had a stretch recently where he was 10-1-2 in 13 games, allowing a total of 15 goals. That's impressive.

Video: CBJ@PIT: Bobrovsky denies Rust's wrister with glove

 

HONORABLE MENTION

The Calgary Flames missed out on the playoffs last season, but they're back. Calgary can roll two No. 1 lines with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Micheal Ferland, and Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michal Frolik. They also have an excellent D-corps led by Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and TJ Brodie. Brian Elliott has been superb since his early-season slump.

Lastly, I want to send my thoughts and prayers to Kyle Okposo and his family. It's been reported that he was undergoing tests in a Buffalo Hospital for an unknown illness and I hope we hear some good news soon.

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