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Playoff race primer: Metropolitan Division

Capitals, Blue Jackets, Penguins, Rangers battle for home-ice advantage in first round

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

With the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs five weeks away, NHL.com is taking a division-by-division look at the race for the coveted spots in the postseason. Here is how the Metropolitan Division stacks up:

The Metropolitan Division has been the most competitive in the NHL all season, with the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers also being the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. Although those four are locks to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they'll have a lot on the line during the remainder of the regular season in terms of determining seeding and home-ice advantage for the Eastern Conference First Round.

The New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers are among five teams separated by three points in the battle for the second wild card into playoffs from the East. They play against each other one more time at Wells Fargo Center on March 30.

 

Washington Capitals

Record: 44-13-7 (95 points)

Where They Stand: The Capitals are in first place in the division and the conference. They lead the Blue Jackets and Penguins by seven points in each race.

What's left: The Capitals have 18 games remaining. They play eight at home, where they are 27-5-1 and haven't lost since Dec. 29, and 10 on the road, where they are 17-8-6.

3 Key Games: March 9 at San Jose Sharks. It's the start of a three-game California trip which also will see them play at the Los Angeles Kings and at the Anaheim Ducks; March 14 vs. Minnesota Wild. A matchup of two of the top teams in the League, who also play again in Minnesota on March 28; March 23 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets. The Capitals are seven points ahead of the Blue Jackets for first place. They play them again in Columbus on April 2.

Key injuries: Right wing Andre Burakovsky is recovering from a right hand injury that has kept him out since Feb. 9. He is eligible to come off long-term injured reserve March 9 and is expected back before the end of the regular season. He no longer has a cast on his hand and has been skating on his own in full equipment but has yet to return to practice.

Player to Watch:  Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is beginning to feel comfortable after being acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27. His right-handed shot and passing skill on the power play could make him a difference maker in the playoffs.

The outlook: Trading for Shattenkirk when they already were in first place signaled the Capitals are all-in this season and know this is their best chance to win the Stanley Cup for the first time.

Video: PHI@WSH: Backstrom snipes game-winning PPG in OT

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

Record: 41-17-6 (88 points)

Where They Stand: The Blue Jackets are in second place in the division and conference. They trail the Capitals by seven points in each race.

What's left: The Blue Jackets have 18 games remaining. They play eight at home, where they are 23-9-1, and 10 on the road, where they are 18-8-5.

3 Key Games: March 13 at Philadelphia. The first of three games remaining against the Flyers. They also play each other in Columbus on March 25 and in Philadelphia on April 8 ; March 23 at Washington. If the Blue Jackets are going to have a chance to catch the Capitals, they'll probably need to win this game and their game in Columbus on April 2; April 4 at Pittsburgh. A possible preview of a first-round series.

Key injuries: Left wing Matt Calvert and center Lukas Sedlak, who are out because of oblique strains, have resumed skating on their own.

Player to Watch:  Rookie Zach Werenski has helped transform the Blue Jackets defense with his puck-moving and offensive skill (39 points, 20 on power play). But this is his first time through the long NHL season and the pressure of the stretch run.

The outlook: The Blue Jackets have been one of the best stories in the NHL this season and are closing in on qualifying for the playoffs for the third time. Their reward could be a first-round series with either the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins or the Rangers.

Video: MIN@CBJ: Saad jams own rebound past Dubnyk in 3rd

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 40-16-8 (88 points)

Where They Stand: The Penguins are in third place in the division and conference. They are tied in points with the Blue Jackets in each race, but have one fewer regulation/overtime win.

What's left: The Penguins have 18 games remaining. They play seven at home, where they are 27-4-3, and 11 on the road, where they are 13-12-5.

3 Key Games: March 10 at Edmonton Oilers. It's the second game of a five-game trip. It's also the second time Penguins captain Sidney Crosby will face Oilers captain Connor McDavid; March 31 at Rangers. This and a rematch in each team's regular-season finale at Madison Square Garden on April 9 could be pivotal in determining first-round playoff matchups. April 4 vs. Columbus, a game that also will factor into playoff seeding and could be a first-round playoff preview.

Key injuries: Coach Mike Sullivan said Saturday that defenseman Kris Letang's upper-body injury, which has kept him out since Feb. 21, no longer is a day-to-day situation but the Penguins are "hopeful that it's nothing long-term." Defensemen Trevor Daley (knee) and Olli Maatta (hand) possibly could miss the remainder of the regular season. Forward Bryan Rust has resumed skating and is working his way back from an upper-body injury that has kept him out since Feb. 9.

Player to Watch: With Letang, Daley and Maatta out, defensemen Mark Streit, who was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning (previously acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers) on March 1, and Ron Hainsey, who was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 23, will have to help carry the load on defense during the stretch run.

The outlook: With Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at the top their games, the Penguins are set to make a strong bid to become the first Stanley Cup champion to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998, but will need a healthy Letang.

Video: BUF@PIT: Schultz finds Sheary for late go-ahead goal

 

New York Rangers

Record: 41-22-2 (84 points)

Where They Stand: The Rangers are in fourth place in the division and conference and hold the first wild card. They trail the Blue Jackets and Penguins by four points.

What's left: The Rangers have 17 games remaining. They play six at home, where they are 19-14-2, and 11 on the road, where they are 22-8-0. Their 22 road wins are the most in the League.

3 Key Games: March 22 vs. the Islanders. The Rangers are 1-2-0 against the Islanders this season. That the Islanders are making a push to try to make the playoffs will add to the intensity in this rivalry game; March 25 at Los Angeles Kings. The start of a difficult three-game California road trip; March 31 vs. Pittsburgh. The first of two games remaining against the Penguins and a potential first-round playoff matchup. Pittsburgh and the Rangers play again in their regular-season finales April 9.

Key injuries: Defenseman Kevin Klein has missed the past six games because of back spasms and won't accompany the Rangers on their four-game road trip that begins against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. Right wing Michael Grabner, who leads the Rangers with 26 goals, remains day-to-day because of a sore hip that has kept him out the past two games. Defenseman Dan Girardi is expected to miss another week because of an ankle injury. Right wing Jesper Fast (upper body) is out 2-3 weeks.

Player to Watch: The Rangers got goaltender Henrik Lundqvist through a stretch earlier this season when he was struggling. Now they need him to carry them for a while with their injuries piling up.

The outlook: The Rangers have hit a lull (4-4-1 in their past nine games) while they've dealt with a recent rash of injuries. They'll need to find their best game again before the start of the playoffs.

Video: MTL@NYR: Kreider cashes in on his own rebound

 

New York Islanders

Record: 30-23-11 (71 points)

Where They Stand: The Islanders are in fifth place in the division and hold a one-point lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the race for the second wild card.

What's left: The Islanders have 18 games remaining. They play seven at home, where they are 20-8-6, and 11 on the road, where they are 10-15-5.

3 Key Games: March 11 at St. Louis Blues. This wraps an Islanders-record stretch of nine consecutive games on the road. They are 3-2-1 through the first six games; March 22 at Rangers. Their last scheduled game this season against their New York rivals; March 30 at Philadelphia. The Flyers are one of the teams the Islanders are trying to hold off in the battle for the second wild card.

Key injuries: Center Casey Cizikas has been out since Feb. 23 because of an upper-body injury and is expected to miss another two weeks. Center Alan Quine has missed the past three games because of an upper-body injury.

Player to Watch: After getting off to a slow start this season, left wing Andrew Ladd has nine goals in his past 18 games and ranks third on the Islanders with 17. His continued production would be a big boost to the Islanders' playoff hopes.

The outlook:  The Islanders already have come a long way, going 14-6-3 in their past 23 games to climb from last place in the conference into a playoff spot, but have a lot of work left to hold their position with 11 games remaining on the road.

Video: NYI@CGY: Tavares slams home rebound from the doorstep

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Record: 30-26-8 (68 points)

Where They Stand: The Flyers are in sixth place in the division and trail the Islanders by three points for the second wild card.

What's left: The Flyers have 18 games remaining. They play eight at home, where they are 19-10-4, and 10 on the road, where they are 11-16-4.

3 Key Games: March 9 at Toronto Maple Leafs. To get a playoff berth the Flyers need to climb ahead of the Maple Leafs, Lightning, Florida Panthers and Islanders; March 15 vs. Pittsburgh. The first of two remaining games against their Pennsylvania rivals. They also play at Pittsburgh on March 26; March 30 vs. the Islanders. This probably will be a must-win for the Flyers if they're going to come back to qualify for the playoffs.

Key injuries: Left wing Michael Raffl injured his left knee against the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 28 and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks, according to general manager Ron Hextall.

Player to Watch: Goaltender Steve Mason has played well recently, allowing three goals while going 2-0-1 in his past three starts. He'll have to play consistently at that level for the Flyers to have any chance to qualify for the playoffs.

The outlook: The Flyers went 15-5-3 in their final 23 games last season to overcome a five-point deficit and make the playoffs. They'll need a similar run and some help to do it again this season.

Video: FLA@PHI: Mason denies Huberdeau to seal shootout win

Carolina Hurricanes

Record: 26-26-10 (62 points)

Where They Stand: The Hurricanes are in seventh place in the division and trail the Islanders by nine points for the second wild card.

What's left: The Hurricanes have 20 games remaining. They play 11 at home, where they are 18-10-2, and nine on the road, where they are 8-16-8.

3 Key Games: March 11 vs. Toronto. The Hurricanes have been dangerous at home and can hurt the Maple Leafs' playoff chances with a win in this game; March 13 at Islanders. The first game of a home-and-home series with the Islanders, who visit PNC Arena on March 14. They also play at PNC Arena on April 6; April 9 at Philadelphia. The Hurricanes might be in positon to be playoff spoilers in their regular-season finale.

Key injuries: Left wing Brock McGinn has missed the past three games because of an upper-body injury and remains day-to-day.

Player to Watch: Left wing Bryan Bickell hopes to return to the NHL after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis Nov. 10. He has three assists in five games with Charlotte of the American Hockey League since being assigned there Feb. 24 to resume playing.

The outlook: The Hurricanes have some promising young players such as Noah Hanifin, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Teuvo Teravainen, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, but will miss the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.

Video: CAR@TBL: Ryan rips one-timer through screen for PPG

 

New Jersey Devils

Record: 25-28-12 (62 points)

Where They Stand: The Devils are in eighth place in the division and trail the Islanders by nine points for the second wild card.

What's left: The Devils have 17 games remaining. They play nine at home, where they are 13-13-6, and eight on the road, where they are 12-15-6.

3 Key Games: March 16 vs. Philadelphia. The Devils have a chance to be spoilers in the playoff race with two more games against the Flyers after this one. They play again at Philadelphia on April 1 and in New Jersey on April 4; March 31 at Islanders. A win at Barclays Center would hurt the Islanders' playoff chances; April 9 at Detroit Red Wings. Expected to be the final game at Joe Louis Arena with the Red Wings unlikely to make the playoffs. The Red Wings move into Little Caesars Arena next season.

Key injuries: Center Jacob Josefson is day-to-day because of an upper-body injury. Left wing Michael Cammalleri is expected to be out for at least a week because of an upper-body injury. Left wing Miles Wood (lower body) and defenseman Damon Severson (upper body) did not play against the Blue Jackets on Sunday, but coach John Hynes said neither is expected to be out long-term.

Player to Watch: With the Devils unlikely to make the playoffs, the continued development of rookie center Pavel Zacha, who returned from a concussion Sunday, can help lay the groundwork for him to take the next step in 2017-18.

The outlook:  Facing the reality that they're likely to miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, the Devils are looking toward next season.

Video: MTL@NJD: Palmieri snaps home opening goal late in 1st

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