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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

Breaking Down Potential First-Round Opponents for the Capitals

What’s up, babes? The Washington Capitals have officially punched their ticket to the 2019 playoffs with their 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes last Thursday night, and with the regular season coming to an end on Saturday, it’s time for us to meet the potential teams that the Capitals might face in the first round of these playoffs. While there is plenty that can change between now and April 9, with the Metro still up for grabs, let’s get familiar with the three teams that the Capitals are most likely to face.

Carolina Hurricanes

If the season were to end today, the Capitals would play the Hurricanes in the first round. If the Hurricanes hang on and make the playoffs it would be their first appearance since 2009, ending the longest active drought in the National Hockey League. While this is not an experienced team, it is a very dangerous one, especially offensively. The Hurricanes put up lots of shots on goal, currently ranking within the top five in shot attempt percent, scoring chance percent, and high danger percent.

Their combination of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney in the net is an upgrade in goaltending from previous seasons but is still middle of the pack overall. The Hurricanes are not a team to be taken lightly, but I’d have to imagine that the Capitals would welcome them as a first-round opponent after they swept the season series and have dominated them in recent seasons – going 32–16 against the Hurricanes since 2010.

Hey, Don Cherry, does the winner of this series get crowned biggest jerk?

Columbus Blue Jackets

Despite the fact that the Blue Jackets don’t exactly have the most decorated playoff history, as we saw last year Columbus is still a dangerous opponent.  The Capitals and Blue Jackets met in the first round of last year’s playoffs where the Capitals defeated Columbus in six games after Columbus jumped out to a 2–0 series lead before the Capitals stormed back to win four straight.

With Columbus likely losing their two best players in forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergi Bobrovsky this offseason, the Blue Jackets could be a team hungry to do something the franchise has never done before: make a deep playoff run.

Columbus is a very deep squad that spreads out their goals throughout their lineup. They have over 10 players who have scored more than 20 points and, if they can squeak into the playoffs, would give the Caps a lot of matchup issues. The Blue Jackets won the season series 3–1 against the Capitals this year, and would make for a physical series with two teams who are quickly becoming rivals.    

Pittsburgh Penguins

There’s no need to talk too much about the Penguins. Pretty much, if you’ve seen an NHL game in the past decade you know about the history between the Penguins and the Capitals. So, if the Capitals were to relinquish their lead of the Metro, it would be to either the Islanders or Penguins. This potential Caps-Pens series would have some new wrinkles to it, however, for three main reasons:

1. It would happen in the first round, not the second.

This would be new, all four of their playoff matchups in the Ovechkin-Crosby era have occurred in the second round with the winner of the series going onto win the cup three times. Every time the Pens and Caps get together it’s memorable and I doubt either team wants this matchup in the first round. Who would want to play their hardest series in the first round? Where’s the fun in that?

2. The Capitals finally won

Every time the Capitals and Penguins face each other, whether it be the regular season or postseason, the same narrative would always apply: the Penguins own the Capitals. The Penguins had a mental stranglehold on the Capitals so tight that it was hard to believe that the Capitals would ever get past the Penguins.

However, this year would be different as the Capitals beat the Penguins in six games last year to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, ending the Penguins’ mental advantage. As Capitals play by play announcer John Walton said after Kuzy’s series-winning goal, “the demons have been exorcized!”

3. The Capitals have Carl Hagelin

Hagelin has been nothing short of sensational for the Caps since coming over at the deadline. After tormenting the Caps for years as a member of the Penguins and a part of the HBK (Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel) line, Hagelin could again be a deciding factor in a potential Caps-Pens series but this time rocking the red rather than yellow and black.

If I’d have pick one team to face, I’d go with the Hurricanes. Comment who you hope the Caps face in round one!

-Sean Hannegan

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