Washington Capitals (39-18-5, first in SE, second in EC)
Boston Bruins (42-12-8, first in NE, first in EC)
With each game played, the NHL playoff picture begins to take shape as the top slots are close to secure, and the teams on the outside looking in are left behind. The Capitals are in no danger of missing the playoffs, but what position they will start at is still up for grabs for the moment.
The Capitals need to treat this game against the Bruins as a must win. The situation is simple; win and keep within reasonable distance of the Bruins or lose and spend the month of March fending off the New Jersey Devils.
While the task at hand is great, the Capitals have overcome enormous last-minute challenges before. At the end of February last year, the Capitals were tasked with playing flawless hockey in order to secure a playoff spot. This year, they will need to play flawless hockey if they want to be the top team in the East, guaranteeing a matchup with the eighth and final playoff team.
The Boston Bruins won't be an easy team to chase down. The Bruins' remaning schedule features nine opponents who are not in playoff contention and games against Northeast Division foes in Buffalo and Montreal. The Bruins record when playing divisional opponents? 13-3-2.
Boston's success has come on the shoulders of goalie Tim Thomas. Thomas, a possible Vezina candidate, has a 2.01 GAA through 40 games. He has 27 wins and four shutouts this season. Couple that with an offense that has produced four 20-goal scorers and you're looking at a team poised for a Stanley Cup run.
The Capitals were able to win two points from Atlanta, but if anything was learned from Tuesday night's loss to the Flyers it's that they can't ease up when in control of the game.
Boston and Philadelphia are faintly similar; they are physical teams that use their aggressiveness to create opportunities. If the Bruins batter the Capitals off of their game plan, then the red faithful might want to adjust the rear-view mirror and keep a close eye on the Devils, not the Bruins.
LETS GO CAPS!