The final week of the NHL regular season is here. Where did the season go? Feels like yesterday the season just started. It is a three team race for the NHL Metro Division. Washington holds three point lead over the Islanders and a five point lead over Pittsburgh. All three teams of these teams will be in the playoff. It will just come down to seeding in the division. Carolina continues to battle with Columbus and Montreal for the wild card spot. The final week will be real interesting in terms of seeding and playoff matchups. Let’s go inside this weeks NHL Metro Division Notebook.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Divisional Title Still Up For Grabs
Washington Capitals – The Washington Capitals are playing some of their best hockey of the season. Currently, the Capitals are on a four game winning streak to close out the month of March. During that streak, the Capitals picked up three divisional wins. Two of those wins were against Carolina as the Capitals swept a home and home series. The fourth victory came against Tampa Bay. That rivalry is one to watch going forward. Alex Ovechkin hit the 50 goal mark for the eighth time in his career. Only Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky have more 50 goal seasons. To go along with Ovechkin’s 51 goals, the Capitals have six 20 goal scorers on the roster. The Capitals have a roster that can make another deep run in the playoffs. But it will not be easy.
New York Islanders – The New York Islanders are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. As a matter of fact, the Islanders clinched a playoff spot before John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nobody expected this team to be any good this season. And maybe that was an underestimation of how good Barry Trotz is a coach. After winning the Stanley Cup with a talented team, he took this group and brought them together as a team. The Islanders won a big game on the road in Winnipeg coming from behind. Then clinched their spot in the playoffs with a win against Buffalo. Management put a team together with no superstars, but instead brought players that would fit into Barry Trotz’s system. This team has come together as group and will be tough out come playoff time.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Pittsburgh continues to fight for their playoff lives. Though now, their position in the playoffs in a little more certain than before. While the Penguins sit five points behind Washington, Pittsburgh is now four points in front of Carolina. But the Penguins need to weary of Columbus, who is making a hard charge up the standings. The Penguins are winning without Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. Malkin returned to practice and feels like his body is ready for a playoff run. Kris Letang returned to the Penguins lineup against Carolina on Sunday. This was a huge boost to the Penguins defense that has been decimated by injuries all season. As it stands now the Penguins and Islanders would meet in the first round, but things could change if the Penguins falter down the stretch.
Best of the Rest:
Columbus Blue Jackets – Here come the Columbus Blue Jackets. With their season on the line, the Blue Jackets are finally playing like the team everyone expected them to be after the trade deadline. Currently the Blue Jackets are on a five game winning streak vaulting them passed the Carolina Hurricanes in the standings. The top line of Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, and Cam Atkinson are clicking on all cylinders. Speaking of Panarin and Atkinson, both players created a little history over the weekend. First, Panarin recorded his third four assist night, which included his 200th career assist. Not only that Panarin set a new record for points by a Blue Jackets player with 83. Second, Atkinson recorded his 40th and 41st goals of the season becoming the first player since Rick Nash to accomplish that feat. Columbus also has seven 20 goal scorers on the team.
Carolina Hurricanes – After getting a big win over Montreal last weekend, things did not go exactly as planned for the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina has lost three out of four games. All three losses coming at the hands of divisional opponents. Instead of being closer to clinching a playoff spot, the Hurricanes are in the mix with Columbus and Montreal fighting for the two wild card spots. Though, Carolina was able to beat the Flyers, eliminating them from playoff contention. Watching the Hurricanes play, you can clearly see there is a fatigue factor with some of the players. Some of these guys have never been here before. So their bodies need to adjust to a longer schedule. Also the Hurricanes schedule has not been that favorable. Over the past two weeks, Carolina had to play three games in four nights on multiple occasions.
Philadelphia Flyers – What a season for the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately, the ride is over for the Flyers who lost on Saturday to Carolina, eliminating them from playoff contention. The gap in the standings was just too much for the Flyers to make up. Lots of things had to go their way in order for the Flyers to even have a shot at the playoffs. Too many losses down the stretch cost this team a chance at the playoffs. Going through this experience was a good lesson for the young players on the team. Especially their goalie Carter Hart, who is the future of this franchise. Finally the Flyers have a goalie they can rely on going forward. Something that has been missing for a long time. The real question will be is Scott Gordon coming back to coach this team next year?
New York Rangers – The Rangers continue to do themselves no favors in the standings. Granted no professional team is going out there deliberately losing, but with the top picks in the draft so valuable losses mean everything. It is never easy going through a rebuild but the fans have been treated to some nice surprises by players this season. Alexandar Georgiev continues to show why he is the goalie of the future for the Rangers. Night in and night out his delivers great performances. Georgiev is the perfect guy to take over the starters role from Henrik Lundqvist. Staying with the Russian aspect for a second, Pavel Buchnevich becomes the 4th Russian in franchise history to score 20 goals in a season. Not to mention the fact that Mika Zibanejad hit the 30 goal mark this season. This kid is the real deal and is a building block going forward.
New Jersey Devils – As the season comes to an end for New Jersey, the Devils are looking to end things on a high note. The Devils have won two of three games as Cory Schneider continues to play great for the Devils. Imagine if Schneider did not come back too early from injuries what this team could have been. Just think the Devils were 4-0 to begin the season and Keith Kinkaid had two shutouts. Everything went down hill when the Devils could not hold on to a lead against Colorado. There was so much hope for this season. Kyle Palmieri could hit a milestone if he can get to the 30 goal mark again. Blake Coleman is having a season to remember with 22 goals on the season. He has been one of a few bright spots for this team. Unfortunately poor defense and injuries did this team in.