The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

What’s up: The Cap­i­tals, fight­ing Pitts­burgh and Colum­bus for both the Metropoli­tan Di­vi­sion cham­pi­onship and the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy that goes to the team with the best record in the reg­u­lar sea­son, will be in Den­ver to face the Avalanche on Wed­nes­day night. They likely will have a lot at stake.

Back­ground: Cap­i­tals cen­ter Nick­las Back­strom qui­etly — and I say qui­etly be­cause he’s on the same team as Alex Ovechkin — is hav­ing a sea­son that mer­its Hart Tro­phy con­sid­er­a­tion. He won’t win it, but he should be in the con­ver­sa­tion. Go­ing into the Cap­i­tals’ Satur­day game against Ari­zona, Back­strom had 22 goals and 78 points. Also, the Cap­i­tals have man­aged to do this well with Ovechkin hav­ing what pos­si­bly could end up the worst goal-scor­ing sea­son of his ca­reer. That’s rel­a­tive, of course: He had 29 go­ing into the week­end.

Frei’s take: This is high­light­ing one of the po­ten­tial flaws in the NHL’s lat­est play­off for­mat, with the sec­ond- and third-place teams in each of the four di­vi­sions matched against each other in the first round. Win­ning the Metropoli­tan Di­vi­sion is ex­traor­di­nar­ily im­por­tant, since the top three teams also are the three best teams in the league. The win­ner, likely the Cap­i­tals, will face the sec­ond East­ern Con­fer­ence wild-card team in the first round. The other two will have to play each other right off the bat. That’s wrong.

Granted, you still have to win four se­ries to hoist the Stan­ley Cup, and it’s never easy. But the NHL pe­ri­od­i­cally has overem­pha­sized di­vi­sions in de­ter­min­ing early-round play­off matchups, and this re­in­forces how mis­guided that is. The league should re­vert to the con­ven­tional 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 matchups in each con­fer­ence for the first round. The only con­ces­sion to di­vi­sions would be guar­an­tee­ing di­vi­sion win­ners a one or two seed.

Un­der that sys­tem, as of Satur­day, the East­ern Con­fer­ence first-round pair­ings would have been Cap­i­tals (1) vs. Bru­ins (8), Cana­di­ens (2) vs. Maple Leafs (7), Pen­guins (3) vs. Sen­a­tors (6) and Blue Jack­ets (4) vs. Rangers (5).

Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals cen­ter Nick­las Back­strom is hav­ing a sea­son that mer­its Hart Tro­phy con­sid­er­a­tion. Pa­trick Smith, Getty Im­ages

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