When the Capitals returned to the visiting dressing room Saturday night following their 5-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, they were greeted by the whoops and hollers of their fathers, grandfathers and brothers.
“It felt like we won the Stanley Cup in the room afterward,” Capitals left wing Jason Chimera said with a laugh. “The way they were all crowded around us, jumping up and down. It was pretty funny.”
This is what happens when a team ends a seven-game losing streak in front of the men that introduced them to hockey in the first place.
But it’s what happens next that will truly test the resilience of the Capitals and their legitimacy as a playoff team.
Following their practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Monday the Caps hopped on another plane for the second leg of their five-game road trip, a three-city tour that sends them to Buffalo for a Tuesday night game against the Sabres, Columbus for a Thursday night game against the Blue Jackets, and Detroit for a Friday night game against the Red Wings.
Capitals coach Adam Oates says it’s human nature for his players to feel pretty good about themselves after scoring more goals in one game than they had in their previous four.
“We score five and you have to have the same message,” Oates said. “If you’re not prepared, you can lose five more again that fast.”
And that’s something the Capitals cannot afford. To be blunt, the Capitals just used their mulligan for the season. Another seven-game losing streak would put them out of the playoff picture for good.
But despite all of their struggles in January, the Caps are still right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Yes, they sit in 13th place in the 16-team conference. And yes, they have just 15 regulation or overtime wins in their first 52 games.
But they are also two points out of third place in the Metropolitan Division and five points out of second.
“We realize we’re still in,” Chimera said. “We need to keep the momentum going before the Olympic break. If people say they don’t look at [the standings] they’re lying to you.
“You look at different games and who you want to lose each night. It’s coming down to crunch time. We’re right there.”
Following the Caps’ three-game set against the Sabres, Blue Jackets and Red Wings they’ll return home for a crucial four-game home-stand against the Red Wings, Islanders, Jets and Devils that will take them into the 18-day Olympic break.
“We didn’t do ourselves any favor with that seven-game losing streak,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said, “but the good news is we’re still in a spot where we can make a run for the playoffs.”