Finally, Some Help
The Caps have been tearing it up for a couple weeks now, and they’ll need to keep doing so through the weekend. As hot as the Caps have been, it’s been tough watching the rest of the teams ahead of them also maintain a strong pace. Despite winning nine of its last 10 and 13 of its last 17, the Caps still need to win out and get a bit of help to sneak into the playoffs. But Philly lost last night, and Boston lost in a shootout. Ottawa has been struggling, to put it mildly.
With the events of last night, the Caps have some viable possibilities for getting into the Stanley Cup playoffs. They need to win both remaining games, tonight against Tampa Bay and Saturday against Florida. That won’t be nearly as easy as it sounds.
Assuming they are able to take care of their end, any one of these combination of events will get the Caps in.
– Carolina loses in regulation or overtime to Florida on Friday
– Ottawa loses one of its two remaining games (tonight at TOR and Fri. vs. BOS) in regulation or loses both in overtime
– Boston loses one of its two remaining games (at OTT on Fri. and vs. BUF on Sat.) in regulation or loses both in overtime
– Philadelphia loses one of its two remaining games (Fri. vs. NJ and Sun. vs. PIT) in regulation or overtime
And if you really want to simplify it, the Caps are in if they win out and the Friday BOS-OTT game is settled in regulation, regardless of who wins it.
Even if it does not win the Southeast Division, Washington can finish as high as fifth (unlikely, because the Rangers would have to finish with three straight regulation losses and other teams would need to lose, too). Winding up in the sixth, seventh or eighth spot is far more likely.
Again, all of this is out the window if Washington doesn’t defeat the Lightning tonight and the Panthers on Saturday. It’s been a little less than five years since the Caps last played meaningful hockey on home ice, and Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis was the guy who dealt the death blow at Verizon Center on Easter Sunday that afternoon. St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier have hurt the Caps in the past, and Washington needs to make sure it doesn’t happen tonight.
Steve Eminger will replace the injured Shaone Morrisonn (week-to-week with an upper body injury) in the lineup. Center David Steckel practiced again today but still doesn’t have enough range of motion in his broken finger to get the medical clearance required to return to the lineup. He’s day-to-day; a return on Saturday against Florida is a slight possibility, but he may be ready for the playoffs if the Caps are able to advance.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this. As one of the guys who has been through the lean seasons here, Eminger is fairly chomping at the bit to get into the lineup and be part of the fun. Believe it or not, Eminger is the second-longest tenured Capital, having been chosen one pick ahead of Alexander Semin in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Only goaltender Olie Kolzig has been with the organization continuously longer than Eminger.
Like most of the rest of us who’ve been around for a while, he is getting caught up in the ongoing excitement of the Caps’ stretch run.
“This is a first for me,” says Eminger. “That one year that we went to the playoffs I was only here for half the year and I didn’t see because I wasn’t here for the turnaround. But it’s unbelievable, that feeling that it’s so close again and getting into the playoffs, anything could happen. Thinking that you could be in the Stanley Cup finals is a dream come true.
“The crowd Tuesday was unbelievable. Obviously I watched it, and I was in the crowd watching it. It was loud all game, not just when things were happening. It was loud all game. I was trying to talk to [Brian Pothier] during the game and we had to yell during the game. That’s how loud it was.
“The support is great and it goes a long way. We feed off of it. The crowd, people might not think it sometimes, but that plays a big role in momentum swings.”
Now that he is getting back into the lineup, I wondered if Eminger feels the energy from his teammates and if he can feed off that as he gets back in.
“Yeah, I do,” he tells me. “I was just as excited as they were watching it. I wasn’t playing, but I felt kind of nervous all game. I think it’s almost harder to watch than to play because you have absolutely no control. I felt like a fan watching it and at times you’re nervous over what’s going to happen. But they played unbelievable. From goalie to defense to forwards, I thought it was a dominant performance and one of our top 60-minute performances.”
Two more like that could lead to the possibility of several more like that.