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Capitals will play Blue Jackets in first-round Eastern series

Washington finished first in Metropolitan; Columbus is first wild card

by Mike Battaglino / Staff Writer

The Washington Capitals will play the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Washington (49-26-7) finished first in the Metropolitan Division and will have home-ice advantage. Columbus (45-30-7) is the first wild card after losing to the Nashville Predators 4-2 on Saturday.

"They're a good young team and they have a great goaltender, but for me it doesn't matter who you play," Washington forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said. "It's just like a fun time. You prepare all year for this moment and it doesn't matter who you play."

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Capitals clinch playoff berth

The Capitals won three of four games against the Blue Jackets this season, including a home-and-home Feb. 6 and 9 (3-2, 4-2). Columbus won the most recent, 5-1 on Feb. 26.

"They're dangerous. They're a similar team to [the Pittsburgh Penguins] where you've got to be focused 100 percent because they've got so many high offensive skilled guys," Columbus forward Thomas Vanek said. "You're in the game, in the game, you're reading it, and before you know it, you're losing. We're going to have to be ready and sharp at all times."

Tweet from @NHL: First Round@BlueJacketsNHL @Capitals It's a date.#StanleyCup

Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and Kuznetsov each scored two goals for Washington in the four games, and Braden Holtby was 3-1-0 with a 3.32 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.

Artemi Panarin scored three goals for Columbus; nine players had one each. Sergei Bobrovsky was 1-3-0 with a 3.04 GAA and .868 save percentage.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Blue Jackets clinch playoff berth

"In the playoffs, every team who's in the playoffs, every team is a very dangerous opponent and very dangerous team," Ovechkin said. "... We just have to play our game and be focusing in on every game."

This is the first time the Blue Jackets have qualified for the playoffs in consecutive seasons; they have never won a series. They were eliminated in five games by the Penguins in the first round last season.

Washington and Columbus have never played a playoff series.

"I thought the effort was great tonight, so that's pretty much all we're going to carry over for [Washington]," Vanek said. "I'm sure we'll have [Sunday] off, I'm guessing, and then we'll go back to work on Monday and get focused on them. It's going to be a tough series." staff writer Tom Gulitti and correspondent Robby Stanley contributed to this report.

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