March 30 – Day 167 – Another playoff preview

With a 4-1 victory in yesterday’s Game of the Day, Minnesota completed the season sweep of Chicago, revenge for four-straight losses in the Western Semifinals almost a year ago.

Second Star of the Game Jarret Stoll scored the Wild‘s first goal after only 2:37 of play, assisted by Mike Reilly (his sixth helper of the season) and Jordan Schroeder, but Chicago leveled with a power play goal at the 11:55 mark, courtesy of Marian Hossa, who was assisted by Jonathan Toews (his 27th helper of the season) and Michal Rozsival.  The one-all score held not only into the first intermission, but also the second.

Tonight’s game-winner was a First Star Jared Spurgeon backhander at the 4:07 mark of the third, assisted by Mikko Koivu (his 38th helper of the season) and Jason Pominville.  Third Star Erik Haula scored the first of the two insurance goals at the 11:03 mark, assisted by Nino Niederreiter (his 23rd helper of the season) and Matt Dumba.  Niederreiter’s night was not done though, as he scored on an empty net with 1:19 remaining in the game after assists from Mikael Granlund (his 31st helper of the season) and Haula.

Devan Dubnyk earns the win after saving 18 of 19 shots faced (94.7%), while Scott Darling takes the loss, saving only 14 of 17 (82.4%).

The second straight home victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 76-43-18, favoring that side by 36 points over the opposing roadies.

It’s a light Wednesday night in the NHL, as only three games are taking place.  The action starts at 7:30 p.m. eastern when Ottawa visits Winnipeg (TVAS/SN), followed half an hour later by Washington at Philadelphia (NBCSN/SN360).  Finally, at 10 p.m. eastern, this evening’s nightcap, Calgary at Anaheim (SN) gets underway.

Two of the games this evening are between division rivals (Washington at Philadelphia and Calgary at Anaheim), but only Washington at Philadelphia is between playoff qualifiers.  Additionally, the CalgaryAnaheim game is a rematch of one of last season’s Western Conference Semifinals.

While the FlamesDucks game might be fun on an emotional level, the CapitalsFlyers game is important, as these two are headed towards meeting each other in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Washington Capitals LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

Tonight’s game will be Washington‘s 16th in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 10-4-1 record.  Last time they were featured, they lost 4-3 in overtime in Los Angeles on March 9.  Philadelphia has been featured much more recently, as we focused on their 4-2 victory in Colorado last Thursday, which set their series record at 5-2-0.

The 54-16-5 Washington Capitals are living large, already clinching the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference, and regular season championship, aka the President’s Trophy.  As you’d expect, they play probably the best hockey in the league, as they’ve given up the fewest goals and scored the second most.

Led by Karl Alzner’s 186 blocks, Washington has allowed only 2142 shots to reach 46-9-4 Braden Holtby and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.2% for 175 goals against, the fewest in the NHL.  Along with that, they’ve successfully killed 84.81% of their penalties for only 36 power play goals against, the fourth best rate in the league.

Offensively, the Capitals focus on quality over quantity, as even with Alex Ovechkin’s team-leading 364 shots, they’ve only fired the puck 2280 times, but a whopping 10.2% have found the back of the net for 236 goals (led by Ovechkin’s 43 tallies), the second most in the league.  The Caps‘ power play has been even better, as they’re successful on 22.75% of their attempts, good for 53 extra man goals (led by Ovechkin’s 17 power play tallies), the second best rate in the NHL.

Washington last played to a 4-1 win over the Blue Jackets on Monday.  What makes the Capitals worth watching this evening (other than how well they play the game) is how they approach this game.  Although Philadelphia could still advance to the first wildcard spot, this could very well be the Capitals‘ first playoff opponent, so they will be using this game almost as a scouting event for a couple weeks from now.

The 37-25-13 Philadelphia Flyers are currently the fifth best team in the Metropolitan Division and eighth best in the Eastern Conference, qualifying them for the second wildcard spot.  To get there, they’ve played the 14th best defense in the league, paired with the 11th worst offense.

Even with Nick Schultz’ 159 blocks, Philadelphia has allowed 2320 shots to reach 20-17-9 Steve Mason and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.1% for 199 goals against, the 14th fewest in the NHL.  Part of that problem has been a poor penalty kill, which has neutralized only 80.82% of their infractions, allowing 47 power play goals in the process, the 12th worst rate in the league.

Led by Claude Giroux’ 222 shots, the Flyers have fired the puck 2303 times, with 8.4% finding the back of the net for 196 goals (led by Wayne Simmonds’ 26 tallies), the 11th fewest in the league.  Once again, part of that problem is due to poor special teams play, as Philly has connected on only 17.97 power play opportunities for 46 extra man goals (led by Simmonds’ 11 power play tallies), the 13th worst rate in the NHL.

Philadelphia last played Monday to a 3-2 overtime home victory over the Jets.  With a win tonight, the Flyers would pull within two points of the dormant Islanders, but New York will have a game in hand.  Of course, that is only an added benefit of pulling away from Detroit by two points while still having a game in hand over them.

Washington has already won the season series with their 2-0-1 record against Philly.  The last time these squads met was February 7, a 3-2 victory in Washington, but that was of course against a Flyers team under much different circumstances.  Washington will be using this game to get a better understanding of the Flyers, while Philly desperately wants to win to try to get away from the Capitals during the playoffs.

Some players to watch include Philadelphia‘s Giroux (64 points, including 42 assists, with 20 coming on the power play and 222 shots [all lead the team]), Radko Gudas (280 hits [leads the team]), Schultz (159 blocks [leads the team]) and Simmonds (26 goals, including 11 on the power play [both lead the team]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (47 assists [tied for sixth most in the league]), Holtby (46 wins [leads the league], 2.19 GAA [fifth best in the league] and .923 save percentage [tied for sixth best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (53 assists [fourth most in the league], +28 [fourth best in the league] and 73 points [tied for fifth most in the league]) and Ovechkin (43 goals [leads the league]).

This is a tough game to predict the outcome of.  On the one hand, since Washington has clinched, they have no need to strain themselves for victories and will be content to go the rest of the regular season without any injuries and well rested.  However, they can also play “Playoff Hockey God” if they’d like and try to influence who they’d meet in the first round: Flyers, Islanders or Red Wings.  The answer to that question could influence how they play this game.  On the other end, we have a Philadelphia team not only intent on qualifying for the playoffs, but also getting as far away from Washington as possible during the playoffs, and the best way to do that is to be the first wildcard team, sending them to the Atlantic Division to fight towards the conference finals.  To do that, they need a win tonight over the same competition they want to avoid.  Based on talent alone, Washington should win this.

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