by Mark Mayer | The Washington Capitals must win or tie their home game with Florida Panthers tonight to gain a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin Wednesday. All eight berths in the Western Conference have been secured with just the one slot in the East down to the Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes.
Currently, the two teams are tied for the Southeast Division lead with 92 points. Should the Capitals lose to Florida, which owns a 4-3 lead in the season series, Carolina would gain the No. 3 seed by virtue of winning the division. The tiebreaker is season victories. Carolina ended the regular season with 43. Washington, with the one game remaining, has 42. The loser is out of the playoffs.
The Las Vegas Hilton opened Washington a heavy -300 favorite and the line has since climbed to -330. The posted total is 5½ goals. The Capitals have won three of the last four meetings with Florida. Goalie Cristobal Huet, recently acquired from Montreal, blanked the Panthers 3-0 in the most recent matchup.
Alexander Ovechkin leads both the Capitals and the NHL in goals (65) and points (112). Oli Jokinen is the top Florida scorer with 34 goals and 71 points. The Panthers set up Washington’s shot at the playoffs with a 4-3 victory at Carolina last night. The Capitals were idle. GT pick: Washington.
Already in the playoffs from the East are Pittsburgh, Montreal, New Jersey, the New York Rangers, Boston, Ottawa and Philadelphia. The West playoff teams include Detroit, San Jose, Minnesota, Anaheim, Dallas, Colorado, Calgary and Nashville. Only two playoff series are set, both in the West. Anaheim will host Dallas in Game 1, while Detroit will entertain Nashville. None of the East matchups have been set with the final weekend results determining seedings.
Caesars Palace has Detroit a 3-1 favorite to win the Cup. Defending champion Anaheim is 9-2, along with Pittsburgh. The other single-digit teams are San Jose (5-1) and Montreal (8-1). Here are the rest of the odds: New Jersey (10-1), NY Rangers (10-1), Ottawa (10-1), Minnesota (12-1), Calgary (15-1), Colorado (15-1), Dallas (20-1), Carolina (20-1), Philadelphia (25-1), Washington (30-1), Nashville (30-1) and Boston (40-1).