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Penguins, Blue Jackets both win Sunday, keep up pressure on Caps

Penguins, Blue Jackets both win Sunday, keep up pressure on Caps

On Friday the Capitals became the first team in the NHL to reach 100 points and clinch a playoff berth. You would expect that would mean they were leaving the rest of the NHL in their wake and for the most part, you're right. Yet, the Caps still find themselves in a tight race for the division.

On Sunday, both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets won their games. Sidney Crosby scored a hat trick to lead the Penguins to the 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers. Columbus meanwhile scored two penalty shots in a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. That leaves the top of the Metropolitan Division very crowded:

1. Washington Capitals, 100 points, ROW 45
2. Columbus Blue Jackets, 100 points, ROW 45
3. Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points, ROW 42

RELATED: Prediction recap: Caps take down Tampa in 'must-win' game

Oh, did I say the Metropolitan standings? That's actually what the NHL standings look like too. Yes, as of Sunday afternoon the top three team in the league all reside in the same division. That will mean a much more difficult finish to the season than anyone would expect for a team that leads the NHL in late March.

This also raises questions about the NHL's current playoff format. In the divisional format, the team that finishes first in the division will get to play a wild card team, but the reward for the second and thrid place team will be a first round matchup against each other. The winner of those two series then face each other in the second round.

That means if the standings hold, two of the top three teams in the entire league are guaranteed to be eliminated before the conference finals. Granted, upsets happen so there's no guarantee any of these teams would make it deep into the playoffs regardless of the format, but considering the playoff seedings are in theory supposed made to reward regular season performance, this doesn't seem like the best way to determine plyoff matchups.

There's no perfect playoff format, but the current standings expose the glaring issues the NHL's divisional format has and it's not just a one year aberration. Last season, the Capitals and Penguins were the top two teams in the East, but they met in the second round.

Looks like the NHL may need to rethink things a bit when it comes to the playoffs.

MORE CAPITALS: Burakovsky picks up where he left off for Caps

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Playoffs Power Rankings: On to Round two

Playoffs Power Rankings: On to Round two

And then there were eight.

The Caps’ Game 6 victory on Sunday brought to a close the first round of the playoffs. Already, the field looks entirely different than many anticipated.

Washington came into the postseason as the team to beat, but the Caps were given all they could handle by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, made short work of the Columbus Blue Jackets in what was expected to be one of the most competitive series of the first round. This begs the question, are the Penguins now the frontrunners in the East despite ceding home-ice advantage to Washington and not having Kris Letang?

SEE THE UPDATED STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS POWER RANKINGS HERE

The West is now wide open after the Nashville Predators’ stunning sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks. Coming into the playoffs, the St. Louis Blues had the longest odds of any team to win the Cup because their path went through the top two seeds in the West. The Blues dispatched the Minnesota Wild in just five games and Chicago is already out. If you put money on St. Louis, you’re probably feeling pretty good right now.

But did Nashville’s sweep show that they are now the frontrunners in the West?

And let's not forget about the Pacific. The Anaheim Ducks have yet to lose this postseason after a sweep of the Calgary Flames while Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers are out to prove that experience is overrated.

Find out where all eight of the remaining teams stand in this week’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings.

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Prediction recap: Washington survives Toronto's best shot

Prediction recap: Washington survives Toronto's best shot

The Maple Leafs made a push for Game 7, but in the end they fell in Game 6 as the Caps took the game and the series on Sunday.

Here's a recap of the three bold predictions.

1. Toronto will score in the third period - Correct

The hockey gods would not allow this prediction to be wrong. Did you see that bounce off the boards? Not only did it bounce right into the danger area right in front of the bench, it went to the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer in Auston Matthews.

RELATED: 3 key observations: Caps save their best for last

2. Someone will take a penalty against Alex Ovechkin - Wrong

Give Mike Babcock all the credit in the world. Every point where you thought lack of experience would hurt Toronto, it didn’t. That speaks to coaching. I thought the Maple Leafs would try to coax a penalty out of Ovechkin, but would get carried away. Yet, despite their inexperience and the pressure of the moment, Toronto remained very disciplined.

3. If Toronto leads after the first period, the series is going 7 games - Push

For the first time all series, the score after the first period was 0-0. Both teams had chances but looked more tentative than they had earlier in the series. They recognized what was at stake on Sunday and affected the play to a degree.

2017 Results: I expected to see Toronto’s best push in Game 6 and I was not sure how the Caps would respond. Washington’s response late in the game was very impressive and a great sign for Caps fans going forward in the postseason.

Correct: 8
Wrong: 9
Push: 1

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals vs. Penguins schedule announced