With the NHL regular season finally over, the Metro Division once again will be sending five teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Two of the teams clinched their playoff spots on the third to last day of the season. While it took the Columbus Blue Jackets to Game 81 to clinch the final spot in the East. Washington, Pittsburgh, and Columbus are all back from a year ago, while the Islanders and Hurricanes are back in the dance. Let’s go inside the NHL Metro Division Notebook to recap the season.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Five Teams Going Back to the Playoffs
Washington Capitals – The Washington Capitals are heading into the playoffs as Metro Division champions once again. While it took some time for the Capitals to get after their party over the summer, the Capitals are clicking on all cylinders. Alex Ovechkin finished the season with 51 goals along with his 8th Rocket Richard Trophy. That is most by any player in NHL history. Down the stretch, Braden Holtby has been at his best. As a matter of fact, at this time last year, Holtby was not even the starter. Current Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer was slated to start the playoffs. Washington is better team with Holtby as his best. While there were struggles defensively as times, the Capitals have locked it down heading into the playoffs.
New York Islanders – Surprise, surprise the New York Islanders are back in the Stanley Cup playoffs and they have home ice as well. On the final day of the regular season, the Islanders picked up a vital two points to avoid having to the start the playoffs on the road. As we will get into in the playoff preview, the Coliseum will be important for the Islanders success in the playoffs. Having Barry Trotz was the best thing for the Islanders. After being one of the worst teams defensively a year ago, the Islanders became one of the best defensive teams this year. Not to mention goalies Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner captured the William Jennings Trophy, for the lowest goals against average. While the Islanders might not have any superstars, they are playing a team game. That is important come playoff time.
Pittsburgh Penguins – For the 13th straight season, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a team that has so much talent, the Penguins are expected to be there. However, this season was full adversity. The Penguins did not clinch a playoff spot until the final week of the regular season. And it took until the final day of the season to lock up the third spot in the division. It has been a fight all season long for Pittsburgh. Things have not come easy for the Penguins this season. Not only did the Penguins deal with a lot of injuries, but consistency on the ice was a big problem. The Penguins are hoping after overcoming all of this it will lead to another championship come June. The team is finally back at full strength with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang back in the lineup.
Best of the Rest:
Carolina Hurricanes – Those Bunch of Jerks finally did it. For the first time in a decade the Carolina Hurricanes are going back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just seeing the reactions from the playoffs, head coach Rod Brind’Amour, Don Waddell, and Tom Dundin was priceless. Carolina clinched a playoff spot on Game 81 of the season. Carolina deserves to be there after the season they had. Fans rallied behind the Hurricanes thanks in large part to the Storm Surge. Fans wanted to see what the players did after they won games on home ice. The Hurricanes retired the Storm Surge heading into the playoffs. Another reason why the Hurricanes were so successful was they finally had solid goaltending. Even though Petr Mrazek and Curtis Mcelhinney split time, both guys gave the team confidence during the season.
Columbus Blue Jackets – While it may have taken until game 81 to clinch a playoff spot, the Columbus Blue Jackets made it to the dance. All the moves the Blue Jackets made at the trade deadline paid off. However, if the Blue Jackets do not get far in the playoffs or at least win it all, you could see guys like Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky leave. Panarin finished the season with 87 points, a franchise record for Columbus. While Cam Atkinson finished with a career high in goals with 41. Columbus also saw Josh Anderson and Pierre Luc-Dubois finish with 27 goals. Both players have come into their own this season. Oliver Bjorkstrand also finished with a career high in goals with 23. Bobrovsky finished the season strong and led the league with 9 shutouts. He will be an x-factor come the playoffs.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Philadelphia Flyers are one of three teams vying for the right for first overall pick in this years NHL Entry Draft. However, before that night comes, the Flyers really had a remarkable turnaround year. After stumbling out of the blocks, the Flyers fired their general manager, head coach, and brought up Carter Hart. The moment the Flyers brought up Hart, the team started to blame much better. In fact, the Flyers were in playoff contention up until a couple of weeks ago. However, once Hart got injured things started spiral again. Carter Hart is the future goalie of the Philadelphia Flyers. this kid has what it takes to make it in this league. For the first time in a long time, the Flyers do not have to worry about that position.
New York Rangers – Going into this season, the Rangers let it be known they were rebuilding. Continuing with that trend, they sold off players at the trade deadline. While one of the moves was not popular, you have the understand the Rangers are building towards the future. Whether that future is a year from now or three years from now, the Rangers are looking ahead. However, fans got a glimpse of what this team might look like going forward. Mika Zibanejad was one of a couple of bright spots this season. Zibanejad recorded 30 goals along with 74 points. He is the perfect building block to build around. To go along with Zibanejad, Chris Kreider scored 28 goals, while Pavel Buchnevich hit the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career. Since coming over from Edmonton Ryan Strome has done well for the Rangers.
New Jersey Devils – It was a disappointed season for the New Jersey Devils. A year after making the playoff for the first time since 2012, the Devils find themselves back in the draft lottery. It is such a shame because the Devils started off the season so well. Unfortunately everything took a turn for the worst, when the Devils could not hold the lead against Colorado. Since then the Devils could not get it together defensively. Not to mention all the injuries the Devils suffered this season. Taylor Hall, the team’s point leader and last year’s MVP, was out since December and missed the rest of the season due to a knee injury. One bright spot has been Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood is the goalie of the future and with Schneider playing better, these two could make a good duo next season.