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Islanders vs. Capitals (vs. Penguins? vs. Bruins?): Final 10 games in East Division race

Tied for first place, the Islanders and Capitals face each other three times and could take each other down a peg. Or three.

2020 NHL All-Star - NHL Fan Fair & Mascot Showdown
Some of you guys will have to leave.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Well, who predicted* this?

With 10 games to go in a pandemic-shortened (to think, I used to think “lockout-shortened” was bad) season, the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals are tied for first place heading into a three-game set against one another.

*I don’t remember what I predicted at the beginning of the season, but then I don’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning or where I parked my car. I do remember the feeling in my sleepy eyes when Pat LaFontaine scored in quadruple overtime. Somewhere between 1987 and 2021, I’m sure I didn’t predict the Isles to be tied for first on April 21

As the division co-leaders prepare to face off, the Islanders and Capitals each have 62 points, though the Caps hold a significant advantage with 24 regulation wins to the Islanders’ 21. Between Thursday and Tuesday, the teams could trade first place multiple times...or send one another down the standings. It’s all complicated by the schedule and the prospect of any number of two- and three-point games, thanks to #OurStupidStandings.

But Wait, There Are Others...

Oh, and then lurking right behind are the Penguins, with 61 points, and 22 regulation wins...and arguably the easiest schedule left.

There are also the Bruins, deceptively behind at 58 points but with two fewer games played than the rest of this crew.

It’s quite possible that as the Islanders and Capitals tear each other apart, the Penguins or even the Bruins pass at least one of them. During the three-game Isles-Caps series, for example, the Bruins will play four times (the Sabres twice and the Penguins twice), as will the Penguins, who have two more against the Devils this week in addition to next week’s pair against Boston.

So while the focus for us at the moment and in the table below is the Islanders and Caps, here’s a look at what all four face the rest of the way. In the interest of space, the Pens and Bruins sections don’t include their previously listed meetings with the Isles and Caps, but they’re in the totals.

Final 10 (or 12)

Final 10 vs PIT vs NYR vs PHI vs BOS vs BUF vs NJD Home/Away
Final 10 vs PIT vs NYR vs PHI vs BOS vs BUF vs NJD Home/Away
Islanders n/a 2 (4/29, 5/1) n/a 1 (5/10) 2 (5/3, 4) 2 (5/6, 8) 5H,5A
Capitals 2 (4/29, 5/1) 2 (5/3, 5/5) 2 (5/7, 8) 1 (5/11) n/a n/a 6H,4A
Penguins :) n/a 2 (5/3, 4) 2 (4/25, 27) 2 (5/6, 8) 2 (4/22, 24) 6h,4A
Bruins 2 (4/25, 27) 2 (5/6, 8) n/a :) 4 (4/22, 23, 29, 5/1) 2 (5/3, 4) 5H,7A

Note that the Bruins have two extra games, with four Taylor Hall I’ve Moved On matches against the Sabres.

The Penguins have four games left against the bottom feeders (Sabres and Devils), and two more against the Flyers, who are adrift. By paper schedule, they look poised to take first place.

The Capitals arguably have the toughest schedule of all, or at least the one with the fewest “gimmes” since they have zero games remaining against the Sabres or Devils. But they largely “control their destiny” since six of their final 10 games are against the rest of the top four (3 vs. NYI, 2 vs. PIT and 1 vs. BOS).

Ultimately, this being sports and not a poorly conceived Super League, the “any given Sunday” cliche is in effect. Anything can happen. The Isles won five straight against the Bruins this year, then looked outmatched in a two-game set. The Penguins lost to the Sabres recently and nearly blew a 6-0 lead against the Devils. Injuries, fatigue, back-to-backs, etc. may all play a role.

But between now and next Tuesday night, the Isles or Caps could travel anywhere from sole possession of first place to dropping all the way down to fourth.

And after all that? Still seven games will remain for each of them. Breathe.