Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Capitals' Cup Win Changes Nhl Mix Metropolitan Now Premier Division

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Capitals' Cup Win Changes Nhl Mix Metropolitan Now Premier Division

Article excerpt

Poll a panel of experts, and the Central Division more than likely would emerge as the NHL's toughest.

Inhabited by current stalwarts such as Winnipeg and Nashville, as well as past powers such as Chicago (three Stanley Cup titles since 2009-10) and St. Louis (398 regular-season regulation wins since then, ranking fourth), the Central is certainly no slouch.

But among the many things that Washington did when the Capitals won their first Cup eight days ago day were erase many playoff foibles, cement Alex Ovechkin's legacy and settle a divisional debate.

The toughest place to play isn't the Central. It's the Metropolitan Division, which has now emerged victorious three years in a row, the first division threepeat since Edmonton and Calgary combined to win four consecutive Cup titles out of the Smythe Division in 1987-90.

"The Metropolitan Division is a strong division," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said Monday. "It's going to get better, too."

First, let's take stock of all the success the Metro has had in recent years.

Since it was formed in 2013, three of the top five teams in terms of playoff wins reside in the Metropolitan Division: the Penguins (NHL-high 46), Capitals (36, tied for second) and New York Rangers (tied for third).

Furthermore, a Metro team has not played for the Stanley Cup just once - 2015, when the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final in seven games.

During that same span, two Central teams have played for the Cup: Nashville in 2017 and Chicago in 2015, winning it all.

The current playoff format means that more than likely one team from each division will make the conference final, but Central teams have petered out early more frequently than they've made runs, falling in the conference finals to the Golden Knights (2018), Sharks (2016) and Kings (2014).

Why has the Metropolitan fared better?

Some of it is the Penguins-Capitals effect. During the regular season, Washington has held up its share of the bargain; the Capitals' 243 regulation wins during the regular season are more than anyone else, and the Penguins are third with 239.

But it also could be a style-of-play issue that has been echoed throughout the league. …

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