The Washington Capitals are in a familiar spot. They lead the Metropolitan Division in April, they will have home-ice advantage in at least Rounds 1 and 2 of the NHL playoffs, and they are answering questions about whether this will finally be the year they shake the ‘can’t do it in the playoffs’ label.
And yet, something feels different this year.
The lack of hubbub surrounding Washington this season could be a good thing. After back-to-back years of entering the playoffs as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, the Capitals are being overlooked this year, despite what will almost certainly be a fourth-straight 100-point season.
Like Washington, Pittsburgh is also entering April without much buzz. Unlike Washington, this is nothing new for the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions. In fact, this is kind of what the Pens do. They lay in the weeds and then the next thing you know Sidney Crosby is skating around the rink holding a trophy above his head.
There’s a good chance that, for the third year in a row, Pittsburgh and Washington will meet in the second round of the NHL playoffs. The Penguins have won those two matchups, as well as another second-round dust-up in 2009. They are Washington’s bogey team and there’s nothing Caps fans would like more than to rid themselves of this Pittsburgh voodoo.
Which is why Sunday night’s tilt is so important. The Penguins come into the game three points behind Washington, which has a game in hand, with three games to go. A loss against Alex Ovechkin and his gang of playoff underachievers all but assures Washington of a third-straight division crown and home-ice advantage for the looming second-round ritual.
High stakes, baby. High stakes.
Washington Capitals (+105) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (-125) | O/U: 6
7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports
Schedule Notes: This is a really tough spot for the Penguins. Not only is it the second game of a back-to-back, this is also Pittsburgh’s third game in four days and their fourth in six nights. Washington was off yesterday after losing to Carolina on Friday night.