Push for the Playoffs: Capitals, Penguins battle for first in East Division

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Rangers look determined to make things as interesting as possible, but the East Division top four almost certainly looks to boil down to the Bruins, Capitals, Islanders, and Penguins falling in some order.

After head-to-head games on Thursday and Saturday, we could get a better idea of whether or not the Penguins or Capitals will really be able to create some distance for the East Division title.

As great a rivalry as Capitals-Penguins has been, it might also take a little time for the two teams to get to know each other again. Despite the concentrated number of games between a select few East Division teams, the Penguins and Capitals haven’t faced off since Washington beat Pittsburgh 5-2 on Feb. 25.

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“It’s going to feel like the first game of the season against them,” Former Penguins and current Capitals winger Carl Hagelin said. “It’s been two months, and a lot of hockey has been played in those two months since we played them. Both teams have changed, and we’re looking forward to the challenge. We know what type of team they are, and they’ve obviously found a way to keep winning games with a lot of injuries.”

Indeed, a lot of hockey happened since then, and both teams have been playing well since they last met. The Capitals are fourth in point percentage during that time (22-8-0, .733), while the Penguins rank fifth (22-8-2, .719).

For all we know, the Penguins and Capitals could rekindle their rivalry with a series in Round 1 or 2 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That all depends upon where they end up down the stretch — and, to some extent, how they perform against each other.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (matchups by total points)

EAST DIVISION
1. Capitals vs. 4. Bruins
2. Penguins vs. 3 Islanders

NORTH DIVISION
1. Maple Leafs vs. 4. Canadiens
2. Oilers vs. 3. Jets

CENTRAL DIVISION
1. Hurricanes vs. 4. Predators
2. Panthers vs. 3 Lightning

(NOTE: Dallas currently holds a better points percentage than Nashville — .551 to .549.)

WEST DIVISION
1. Golden Knights vs. 4. Blues
2. Avalanche vs. 3. Wild

TODAY’S KEY GAMES
Stars vs. Lightning, 7 p.m. ET
Penguins vs. Capitals, 7 p.m. ET
Blues vs. Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Panthers vs. Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN livestream)
Flames vs. Oilers, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN livestream – LIVE LOOK-IN)

THURSDAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
• Washington will clinch a playoff spot if they beat Pittsburgh in any fashion AND the Islanders beat the Rangers in any fashion OR they earn at least one point against Pittsburgh AND the Islanders beat the Rangers in regulation.

• Pittsburgh will clinch a playoff spot if they defeat Washington in any fashion AND the Islanders beat the Rangers in regulation.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Capitals – 99.99%
Penguins – 99.98%
Bruins – 98.3%
Islanders – 95.8%
Rangers – 5.9%
Flyers – 0%
Devils – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Maple Leafs – Clinched
Oilers – 100%
Jets – 99.5%
Canadiens – 85.2%
Flames – 12.9%
Canucks – 2.5%
Senators – 0%

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – Clinched
Panthers – Clinched
Lightning – Clinched
Predators – 59%
Stars – 40.3%
Blackhawks – 0.7%
Red Wings – eliminated
Blue Jackets – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Golden Knights – Clinched
Avalanche – Clinched
Wild – Clinched
Blues – 89.2%
Coyotes – 6.5%
Sharks – 2.6%
Kings – 1.7%
Ducks – eliminated

draft lottery
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DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via MoneyPuck)

Sabres – 18.1%
Ducks – 12.9%
Devils – 10.9%
Blue Jackets – 9%
Red Wings – 8.5%
Senators – 7.7%
Kings – 6.3%
Canucks – 5.4%
Sharks – 5.1%
Coyotes – 4.2%
Blackhawks – 3.4%
Flames – 2.8%
Flyers – 2.1%
Stars – 1.1%

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 84 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 67
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 61
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 60
Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs – 60
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 59
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 58

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 35 goals
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 28
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 26
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 26
Tyler Toffoli, Canadiens – 25
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 24
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers – 24
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 24
Max Pacioretty, Golden Knights – 24

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.