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Sizing Up the Opponent(s)

Breaking down the two potential matchups for the Capitals in the first round

NHL: NOV 26 Panthers at Capitals Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With less than a week remaining in the regular season and with the Caps having just two games left on their schedule, the final standings for the Metro Division are not quite sorted out yet. While the Hurricanes and Bruins locked in their positioning last night, the Caps and Penguins continue to jockey for position right down to the wire - meaning the Caps’ potential first-round opponent is still unknown.

What we do know is that it will definitely be either the Florida Panthers or the New York Rangers... and whichever team they draw will be a tough opponent.

Let’s break it all down.

Florida Panthers
Scenario that will set up this series: The Penguins win their final game, and the Caps do not win both of their remaining games; the Penguins lose their final game in regulation and the Caps do not earn more than one point in their remaining two games; the Penguins lose their final game in OT/SO and the Caps do not earn at least three points in their final two games.
Season series: 1-1-1

As noted above, there are no “easy” options out of the two potential matchups, but Florida could possibly be the toughest... so naturally, they are the most likely opponent for the Caps.

What makes the Panthers so tough comes down to their ability to simply score the hell out of the other team. Their high-octane offense is tops in the league, and they will probably finish the season as the only team to average more than four goals per game. It’s a balanced attack, too, with four different guys topping 30 goals this season (only Calgary has as many).

Now, the Caps are certainly familiar with run-and-gun teams and know what can happen to them in the postseason when they come up against a tight-checking, physical team. Hell, they’ve been that team several times over the last two decades. If they stick to their system, they could prove to be a tough out, and they certainly are capable of scoring on Sergei Bobrovsky... but it won’t matter much if their own netminder (whoever that will be, although good money’s on Vitek Vanecek) can’t slow the attack coming the other way.

This would be an interesting matchup because the two teams really haven’t played each other since back in November, when they both looked - and played - a little differently than they do now. That last game between the two, however, should serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when you take your foot off the gas even a little against this Florida team.

Florida’s strength: Their attack and their ability to erase deficits. No one has come back from more multi-goal holes than the Panthers this season (something the Caps know firsthand), and seemingly no lead is safe from that firepower.

Florida’s weakness: Sergei Bobrovsky, who has had his share of stumbles in the postseason, and the team’s overall inexperience. The Caps know how to beat Bobrovsky and still have a number of players not that many years removed from winning it all, which could give them an edge against a largely untested Florida squad.

New York Rangers
Scenario that will set up this series: The Penguins lose their final game in regulation and the Caps win one of their two final games; the Penguins lose their final game in OT/SO and the Caps get at least three of their possible four points; the Penguins win their final game and the Caps win both of their remaining games.
Season series: 1-1-0, with one game remaining Friday night

So far this season, the Capitals have faced the Rangers twice and the two games could not have been more different. The first, a highly (and stupidly) hyped game that featured a new-look Rangers squad - aka gooned to the gills - against the Caps, a game the good guys won handily 5-1. The second, and more recent, was a stumbling 4-1 loss by the Caps at MSG back in February.

The Rangers are tough to figure out. Most of their success this season comes down to an elite netminder in Igor Shesterkin and an uncharacteristic goal-scoring tear by Chris Kreider, who topped 50 goals after almost a decade of hovering around the 30-goal mark. But they did add some depth up front at the deadline and that seems to have made them a more complete team, which is never something you want to face in the playoffs.

New York’s Strengths: Shesterkin and a one-two punch of Kreider and Panarin. If either/both get rolling, that’s a tough team to beat... even if the word “team” is being used rather loosely. Their power play is also pretty potent, with the fourth-best PP crew on the circuit.

New York’s Weaknesses: They willingly waste cap space and lineup spots on untalented goons, and still struggle at even strength - they will likely enter the postseason with the worst SAT% at five-on-five of any playoff squad.

Now let’s hear from you - who do you want?


Which team do you prefer as the Caps’ first-round opponent?

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