With all eight playoff teams in the NHL's Eastern Conference set after Thursday's games, all that remains to be determined are the seedings and first-round matchups. Though, to hear forward Alex Ovechkin explain it, where they finish isn't weighing too heavily on the Washington Capitals.
"It doesn't matter which position you are [in]," Ovechkin said after Thursday's 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers. "It doesn't matter what's the standings right now. It's most important thing to win. Next game [is] most important thing; right now for us, it's [being] ready for the playoffs."
The Capitals (90 points) could finish in third, seventh or eighth place, where they are now, because Florida has not clinched the Southeast Division crown and the Ottawa Senators haven't secured seventh place.
The Panthers and Senators, both at 92 points, need to acquire only one point in their regular season finales to clinch their current seedings. Should either Florida or Ottawa fail to do so, a Capitals win against the New York Rangers on Saturday would push Washington into either third or seventh by virtue of the tiebreaker.
Heading into Thursday's showdown with Florida, the Capitals didn't want to focus on whether they might be able to keep the Southeast Division title within reach. After the victory, though, the top spot in the division is very much in play, putting pressure on Florida.
"They're in, but they're just like us; they're still fighting for the division, and it's kind of fun when it comes down to this last game," forward Troy Brouwer said. "It's nice that we have the fact that we're already in the playoffs to fall back on, but you should see one of the best games that we play all year on Saturday."
Winning the Southeast would give the Capitals something much more valuable than a fifth straight division title — home-ice advantage. Washington is 26-11-4 at home but just 15-21-4 on the road.
"You always want to finish as high as you can, so it's really important. We're going to go out there and bust our tails again," coach Dale Hunter said. "Everybody plays better at home. We're going to battle. New York is a good team, and they're battling for first overall, so it's going to be one of these games again. It's going to be blocking shots and hitting and going at it hard."