Olczyk: Caps among East frontrunners but 'good team' will miss playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
With the NHL's shortened 56-game schedule, temporarily realigned divisions and a modified playoff structure, a number of contenders have emerged for the four playoff spots allotted to the East Division.
As the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins clashed in the second matchup of NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe, NBC Sports analysts Eddie Olczyk and Mike Tirico reminded us that with five really good teams and only four playoff spots, someone has to miss out.
"There's going to be a really good team that's going to be really upset because the way that the alignment is," Olczyk said.
"To me, I look at it as Philly, Boston, Washington are just a notch ahead of everybody else. Then it comes down to that last spot. The Rangers are playing better hockey right now. The Devils have been playing well. And [the Penguins], the [Islanders] have moved up there. There's going to be a really good team that's not going to get into the playoffs," Olczyk said.
The majority of the division is approaching the end of the first third of the season, but coronavirus-related postponements have made the playoff picture a little murkier. The Devils have only played 13 games, the fewest in the conference, due to coronavirus-related postponements.
"You've got a really deep division so two things here Mike is 1) stay hockey healthy and 2) try to stay away from the COVID protocol and give yourself a chance," Olczyk added.
Both of those things have already proved difficult for the Caps who in January found themselves stretched thin after a coronavirus outbreak and several key absences due to injury.
The fight for a shot at the Stanley Cup could come down to the wire for a number of teams in the East Division, especially if the top teams are unable to separate themselves from the pack as has been the case to start the season.