Crunch time awaits Capitals

Crunch time awaits Capitals
March 28, 2013, 6:15 pm
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The math is far more simple than the challenge.

If the Capitals want to get into the playoffs for a sixth straight season, they’ll need to go somewhere around 10-5-0 in their final 15 games.

In other words, they’ll need to win two out of every three games for the remainder of their season.

Entering Thursday night’s action, the Caps were 11th in the Eastern Conference standings with a 15-17-1 record and 31 points, four behind the eighth-place Rangers [16-13-3}, who play their game in hand tonight in Ottawa.

But to catch the Rangers the Caps first need to climb over the Carolina Hurricanes [32 points] and New York Islanders [33 points]. That climb begins Saturday night when, following a three-day break in the schedule, the Caps will begin a three-games-in-four-nights road trip to … Well, we’ll let Brooks Laich provide the play-by-play

“The teams that are coming up are the teams we want to put behind us and not look back,” Laich said after Thursday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “We’ve got Buffalo, we want to put them behind us. We’ve got Philly, we want to put them behind us. And then we’ve got Carolina and we want to catch them and put them behind us.

“You always want to keep teams behind you and keep an eye on who’s above you.”

Capitals coach Adam Oates gave his player a complete day off on Wednesday and put their through a high-energy practice on Thursday.

He said Friday will be more of a teaching day before the Caps catch a flight for the Sabres, who are just one point behind them with a 13-16-4 mark.

“We haven’t had [a break] for a long time,” Oates said, referring to a stretch in which they played 13 games in 22 days. “There’s a lot of stress, a lot of mental stress. Guys are banged up We haven’t had a lot of practice time to get the juices going. Hopefully, this energizes us.”

Following the upcoming three-game road trip the Caps will finish with eight of their final 12 games at VerizonCenter, where they are 8-8-0. The Caps are 7-9-1 on the road but are coming off a 2-1-0 road trip.

“Sometimes it’s just gritty, grinding sand paper fun,” Laich said. “On the road it almost seems like there’s no pressure, especially for some players who may be struggling.

“It’s sort of a uniting thing to go on the road, an us-against-them thing, especially when you go into a building like Philly [on Sunday night]. Our road record has improved and we want to keep going.”

Oates said that if he needs to inspire his players as March rolls into April, they’re in the wrong profession,

“Hopefully, you’re getting up for games because you need to win,” [Oates] said. “The other night [a 3-2 loss to the Islanders] was a tough one because it was the first game back from a trip and it’s hard to re-energize and we let one get away.

“But every game right now, there are so few left you should not have a hard time getting up for them. You’re on auto-pilot and every game, as soon as you get out there in warmups, is a big game”