In a potential playoff matchup with the Buffalo Sabres, the Washington Capitals won 5-4 in overtime. Even though the Caps are now
in first place in the Eastern Conference, usurping the lead from the Philadelphia Flyers by one point, and the Sabres remain the seventh seed, Buffalo is still a possible opponent for Washington.
The Capitals went into tonight thinking that this could be a team they would face after April 13.
“Of course there is definitely a chance we’re going to play them,” said Caps center Marcus Johansson. “so I think we wanted to win the game to prove they can’t win here and just don’t give them any hope.”
The way the Caps began the game, they allowed a very early 2-0 lead to dissapate within a four-minute time period, pretty much giving the Sabres hope. But once the Sabres got a 3-2 lead, the Capitals started playing with a sense of urgency and continued to battle back, including a game-tying power play goal from impact-player Jason Arnott with 51.3 seconds left in the game. The Caps then finished Buffalo off with an Alex Ovechkin goal for the victory.
“It was just a weird game,” said Caps winger Mike Knuble. “It started really weird; five minutes in and it’s 2-2. I don’t know, it was just kind of one of those days.”
Even though head coach Bruce Boudreau expressed concern on the overall play of the Caps, saying it reminded him of Washington’s end of the season struggles last year, he acknowledged that “games like this happen.”
“The best defensive teams in the league, every now and then, will have a game where they stop doing it right,” Boudreau said. “But I thought we did a real good job of coming back.”
With all of the injuries to the team (another one tonight as well: Tyler Sloan went down in tonight’s game.), the Capitals have still put up winning numbers, despite the slightly shaky play in the past few games.
“It shows the depth they have here,” defenseman Scott Hannan said about the Caps’ winning while depleted. “We are going to need that going down the stretch to the playoffs. Things happen with injuries with things that happen in the playoffs and it’s good to know that everyone can come in a play a certain role.”
“There’s a ton of character on this team and you can see that with the comeback win here,” said Washington’s substitute defenseman Sean Collins, who had a decent game and was hinted as possibly staying with the team if the injuries continue by Boudreau.
Retuning to the idea that these teams could meet again in a few weeks, looking at the surface, the matchup of the Sabres and Caps is rather favorable for Washington: after tonight’s overtime win, the Caps won the season series with a 3-0-1 record. The only other potential matchup that record-wise is favorable for Washington is with the Carolina Hurricanes.
However, individually, the games, just like the Capitals’ overall play has been rather sporadic and untelling of a real advantage. Every game with the exception of the second match where the Caps won 4-2 was decided by one goal. Tonight’s game was the first time the Caps did not face Ryan Miller in net (Jhonas Enroth was in net for the Sabres).
It does help, however, to have seen the team not too long before the playoffs to truly size-up the expectations. The bigger lesson here is Washington’s ability to still hold on for wins and to take what they must improve on before the actual postseason.
“Of course we would like to tighten up a bit,” said Knuble, “but I thought it was a fun hockey game.”
An in-depth examination of possible playoff matchups is to come later next week.
The Capitals’ next game will be on the road Tuesday evening against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are on “playoff life support” but only three points behind the New York Rangers for the eighth seed. They will then travel home to play the Florida Panthers and then finish off that series in Florida against the Panthers again.