More Buses and Planes, Please
After six straight games on the road, it’s great to be home again. The Caps will close out the regular season with three straight at home, and the big house on F St. figures to be shaking pretty good on Tuesday when the Hurricanes visit with a chance to clinch the Southeast Division title in the Caps’ barn.
What the Caps want more than anything is to get back out on the road again. The reality of it is that Washington could win out and not make the playoffs. They could finish the season with a seven-game winning streak and wins in 11 of their last 12 games and be on the outside looking in. The Caps could finish in a tie for the Southeast Division title, and still not be playing when the Stanley Cup playoffs get underway next week.
It was hard to see this coming. You figure a 5-1 trip puts you into the top eight, and maybe even gives you enough room for error that you could finish 2-1 and still make the playoffs. At Saturday’s morning skate before the Caps blanked the Florida Panthers 3-0 in their regular season road finale, I mentioned to Caps coach Bruce Boudreau that if he was told before the trip he’d be going into the final game with a shot at a 5-1 trip, he probably would have expected his team to be among the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings, too.
“Yeah, I expected it,” he said. “I expected to be 5-1, but I definitely would have thought 88 points would have put us right there. Philly’s got 89, and they’ve got four games left, so we have to win two more games than they have to win to catch them. Boston has five games left. We’ll know a little bit more about their fate when they face Ottawa this afternoon by the time game time comes. Carolina just doesn’t lose two in a row. They spanked Atlanta pretty good last night. I just firmly believe if you get 94 points — boy, if it takes 95 points to make the playoffs with maybe two teams having 102 points when it’s all over, that says something about the parity even though it won’t make me feel any better.”
Since that conversation of course, Philly and Boston have both padded their totals by a pair, and the Hurricanes finally absorbed a regulation loss. Several teams ahead of Washington are mathematically catchable, but the Caps probably have to win all three remaining games to stay alive.
“It’s tough,” says Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn. “Everybody is winning. There is so much character in this league. Everybody realizes it’s so tight and we’re not getting much help. But we can’t really concentrate on what other people do. We just have to keep winning. We have to win out just to have a chance to get in the playoffs.
“We put ourselves in this position and we realize that. Every game is so important, it’s like a playoff game. The guys have been great in here in battling back after being down a couple of goals. We’ve never out of it when we’ve got such great character and heart on this team.”
As the players boarded the bus for the airport after Saturday’s win in South Florida, almost all of them had their phones open, hitting the refresh button for a final score from Tampa. The Lightning obliged, as ex-Cap Jeff Halpern did his former teammates a solid with a third-period game-winner to take out the Canes. The Caps are hoping for more bus rides and plane rides in their very near future.
Washington will take Sunday off before re-convening for practice at Kettler tomorrow. The Caps will be playing their final three home games this week for a chance to go back on the road.