The Caps have had quite the roller coaster season. From an eight-game losing streak in December, to a 10-game winning streak in March, the Caps have faced a heck of a lot of adversity this season. Ultimately, Washington is, once again, declared the winner of the Southeast Division, due to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres and the Caps’ two points in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
As scrappy as the Leafs played tonight, and as defiant as goalie James Reimer was, the Caps and their goalie Michal Neuvirth settled down by the second half of the second period after defenseman John Erskine got a slapshot behind Reimer. The effort to hold the game down then only needed a shootout, where all the shooters failed to score, except Caps forward Mike Knuble for the game-winner.
Now entering into the last two games of the year, both against the Florida Panthers, the Capitals will need to make sure that they keep the games out of extra frames. Tonights win over the Leafs marks the fourth straight game where the Caps needed an overtime or shootout to decide the victor. Throughout the season, many of the players have deemed these games as “character-building” and it is a testament to the Capitals being able to find ways to win. However, in terms of truly resting players, it would do well for Washington to take out the Panthers in regulation. Luckily though, for the Caps, they still could rest up for at least four days until April 13, when the playoffs begin, and their players have remained stellar in these close matches.
When the Caps begin their run for the Stanley Cup depends on if they hold on to the first seed in the Eastern Conference, or if the
Philadelphia Flyers regain the top spot. Tonight’s win for the Capitals put Washington two points ahead of the Flyers, who lost 5-2 to the Ottawa Senators. The Caps could play the Sabres, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, or Carolina Hurricanes (who are four points out of a playoff spot right now) as either the one or two seed.
If the playoffs started after tonight’s action, Washington would be set to play the Rangers, who they are 1-2-1 against during the regular season. Even though the record does not look promising for the Caps, the small tidbit about a Rangers/Capitals matchup is that New York has not played Washington after the trade deadline; arguably the turning point of the Capitals’ season. But they did play the last game before then and the Rangers put on a 6-0 shellacking on the Caps at home. Nonetheless, I encourage Caps fans to look at the glass half-full and note that New York is not unbeatable.
More importantly, the city of Washington and its hockey team would not want to fall under the same curse they did last season, regardless of who the Capitals play; being the number one seed in the East and the entire NHL, only to lose to the eighth seed that struggled to make the playoffs. So it is highly unlikely there will be a fear of the first round of the postseason (as there shouldn’t be). The way the Caps close out the season will give a few more clues on what to expect out of Washington entering into the playoffs, and will give a more definitive answer as to their potential playoff opponent.
Notes: Alex Ovechkin scored the Caps’ first goal of the game against the Maple Leafs, giving him 300 goals for his career. Ovechkin is the sixth youngest NHL player to 300 goals. Of course, number one was The Great One.
*For more on the Capitals’ season, also read Keara Dowd’s post from earlier today about the Caps and their coming together as a team.*