Capitals rise as ice hockey regular season ends

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After a successful five-game wild ride, the Washington Capitals head into the final week of the regular season with plenty of momentum, though their opponent in the post-season first round remains unknown.

Washington, who have four games left in the regular season, could face either the Florida Panthers, the Carolina Hurricanes or the New York Rangers. The Capitals will have to start their first round series down the road, no matter the match. Their next game is on Sunday at home against Toronto.

Washington (44-23-11, 99 points) sits second in the Eastern Group. If it finishes the regular season in the same spot, Washington will play Florida in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. If the Capitals can climb up the rankings, either to the first wild card place in the East or third place in the Metropolitan Division, they will play either the Rangers or the Hurricanes.

Vitek Vanecek shines as weary metropolitans shut down the road trip with victory in Arizona

Each deduction has its pros and cons for capitals. Florida is the best team in the East, with goal-scoring talent and veteran goalkeeper in Sergey Bobrovsky. Washington has done well against Bobrovsky, who can be shaky in the post-season, in the past years. The netminder is 10-13-5 in 30 career matches against the Capitals, averaging 3.05 and 898 save percentages.

This season against Florida, Washington went 1-1-1, scoring an average of four goals per game but losing an average of 4.33. The playoff streak between the two teams is likely to be one with high goals, with all eyes on the goalkeepers.

Washington still has two inexperienced netizens with Vitek Vaneshk and Ilya Samsonov, neither of whom has won a playoff streak. Both goalkeepers showed flashes of their first starting potential, but neither of them managed to seize the reins. Vanecek scored his fourth close of the season Friday night in a 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Samsonov looked like he was gaining some momentum, starting three of his first four games on Washington’s last trip, but appeared to conceded too many easy goals in the overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

If Washington faces the New York Rangers, it will also face tyrannical goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin. The Russian goalkeeper, recently back in the Hart Trophy conversation, has been fantastic against the capitals so far in his short career, averaging 4-1 and 2.22 goals.

Rangers have looked serious in recent weeks and improved dramatically after the trading deadline, when they picked Andrew Cobb, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Mott and Justin Brown.

Washington has played the Rangers only twice this season, splitting the series, 1-1. The Capitals and Rangers play again Friday at Madison Square Garden in the close of the regular season for both teams. The Capitals will head out a game against the New York Islanders at the UBS Arena the night before.

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Another post-season scenario for Washington is a first-round date with the Carolina Hurricanes. Capitals have been strong against the hurricanes this year, going 3-1. Their only flash was their last meeting in late March, with a lackluster 6-1 loss.

Washington faced the Carolinas in the 2018-2019 season after season, when brave young Hurricanes pushed the favorites capitals into Game 7 back and forth, which Carolina won twice in overtime. A lively rivalry developed between the two teams, often accentuated by the physical fitness of both sides.

This season, Carolina was among the frontrunners in the East and looked like a team set up to run a Stanley Cup race. However, goalkeeper Fredrik Andersen’s injury late in the season has been a cause for concern. Andersen, the Visina Cup nominee as the best goalkeeper in the league, suffered a lower body injury earlier this month. Now Antti Raanta will likely be Carolina’s starter for the remainder of the regular season.

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