‘Nothing short of enormous…’
Lots is on the line during tonight’s matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals in Washington (7 p.m., FSN). If the Hurricanes win, they clinch the Southeast Division with just two games left in the regular season. Lose…and they could miss the playoffs altogether… Ray Whitney and Justin Williams could be back in the lineup for Carolina, but Washington is planning on pulling out all the stops to stop the Canes.
Here’s a look at the picture from The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell (www.thn.com):
One of them has not been in the playoffs since the Clinton administration and the other has gone down the sinkhole at a stunning rate of speed, but the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning could have an enormous stake in how the playoff picture forms over the next six days.
Depending upon what happens Tuesday, the lowly Florida teams can go a long way towards determining whether or not the plucky Washington Capitals make the playoffs, whether the Carolina Hurricanes miss the post-season for the second straight season and whether the Lightning itself will go into the draft lottery with the best chance of getting Steven Stamkos.
But first thing’s first. Tonight’s game between the Hurricanes and Capitals is nothing short of enormous. A Hurricanes win in regulation will give Carolina the Southeast Division title, the third seed in the Eastern Conference and will all but extinguish the Capitals’ playoff hopes.
But a win by Washington in regulation will put them on even terms with the Hurricanes with two games to go. Coincidentally, both the Hurricanes and Capitals meet the Panthers and the Lightning in their last two games.
But even if the Capitals beat the Hurricanes tonight, Carolina still holds the upper hand. That’s because they’ll still have one more win than the Capitals and would also hold the second tiebreaker because they have already clinched the season series.
That’s why it might be more realistic for the Capitals to set their sights on the Boston Bruins and/or Philadelphia Flyers, two playoff posers who currently sit three points ahead of Washington. The Bruins end the season with games in New Jersey and Ottawa before their last game at home against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Flyers close out the campaign in Pittsburgh with their two final games at home against New Jersey and the Penguins.