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Handicapping the NHL division title races

The Capitals have clinched their division early, but the three other races remain up for grabs. Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

Winning one of the four divisional crowns can give a team a critical advantage going into the Stanley Cup playoffs. It often means facing an easier opponent in the opening round, it definitely guarantees home-ice advantage through the first two rounds and it postpones facing a powerhouse like the Washington Capitals until the Conference finals (at least for the Atlantic winner).

How great is this advantage? In the 10 seasons since the 2004-05 lockout, the team that won the top divisional seed advanced past the first round 63.1 percent of the time, versus 42.7 percent for those finishing in second, third or beyond.