Playing a last place Canadiens team, and with an overnight trip to ninth-place Toronto set for the next night, the Capitals could have easily overlooked Friday nights game. In truth, if they lost it would have been the classic case of a trap game.
But instead of playing down to a reeling Montreal, the Capitals were aggressive from the start and rode a few early breaks to a 4-1 victory. In their pocket now is a much-needed two points, just in time to set up a Saturday night bout with the Maple Leafs that could tip the playoff race in their favor.
The two points are good, the confidence is good, Brooks Laich said. There is a reason we won tonight and we have to make sure we duplicate that tomorrow.
Its the same thing if you win a hockey game or lose a hockey game. You have to move on to the next one.
Prior to the win the Capitals had dropped six of their last seven games. They remain within reach of the Southeast Division, amazingly, as Winnipeg sits atop with only the eighth most points in the Eastern Conference. Washington can go two points ahead of Toronto with a win on Saturday night and, if Winnipeg loses to St. Louis (4th in the West), theyll be right back in control of the division.
To recap, the Capitals could either be as low as tenth in the conference or as high as third when the trade deadline approaches. Hows that for suspense?
If you ask the team about the looming deadline, or the playoff race, it remains a one game at a time approach. But Alex Ovechkin admitted some desperation for his team that is in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since the 2006-07.
Speaking with CSNs Al Koken after the second period Alex dropped this frank assessment:
"It's not a disco right now; it's a very serious moment for our team."
In the locker room afterwards he was more specific:
After one win you cant stop and say okay were satisfied with the victory. Were going to Toronto for a huge two points, he said.
Its going to be an unbelievable game for us, a real intense game and every mistake can cost us two pints. Everybody has to concentrate more on that game.
21 games remain for the Capitals and, as their captain made clear, each is as important as the next. They play at Toronto before returning to Washington for five consecutive home games. With a Eastern Conference-best 20 home wins and points in 22 of 30 games at the Verizon Center, the stretch presents the perfect opportunity to get back on track. That is, of course, if they take care of business.
Its got to carry over. Weve got to build some momentum. Weve got to keep going, Jason Chimera said.