Is this a make-or-break series for Capitals?

Is this a make-or-break series for Capitals?
February 21, 2013, 12:30 pm
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For the past six weeks Capitals coach Adam Oates has been trying to get his team to play just like the New Jersey Devils.

Over the next three days he’ll get to see what kind of progress his players are making when the two teams engage in what should be a contentious and entertaining two-game mini-series at Verizon Center.

The Capitals have not played back-to-back home games against the same opponent since 2006 when they faced off against the Carolina Hurricanes three times in a row and lost all three games by one goal.

In that scheduling rarity, the Caps lost 6-5 in overtime in Raleigh on April 3; lost 4-3 in a shootout at home on April 5; then lost 4-3 in regulation at home on April 7.

Capitals forward Wojtek Wolski was not around for that three-game series but insists that having both games at Verizon Center does not represent an advantage for the Capitals.

“There are no advantages,” he said. “When this came up and guys were like, ‘Home ice advantage,’ it doesn’t exist.

“You see last year in the playoffs. L.A. wins and they’re the best team on the road in all the playoffs. It doesn’t exist. It’s fun to play in front of your fans, it’s great to be at home and it’s nice to be with your family. But I know guys who play better on the road and score more goals than they do at home.”

Must-wins: With the Caps scraping the Eastern Conference basement with 11 points, their next four games – here at home against the Devils, Devils and Hurricanes, followed by a visit to Philadelphia – could make or break their playoff hopes.

In all likelihood the Caps will need to finish two or three games above .500 to make the playoff cut. They are currently four games under .500 at 5-9-1 with six teams to climb.

Under that premise the Caps would need to play six or seven games over .500 in their final 33 games [18-12-3?] to get into the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

Does that make these four games a make-or-break stretch?

“I don’t know if they’ll mean any more than the four after that,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We’re in the meat of the season and we need to get in a rhythm.”

No cherry blossoms, but:  In their history the Devils have never played back-to-back games in an opponent’s building.

“If you're going to spend three nights somewhere, I can think of worse places than Washington,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “It's a good test for us. Get on the road, spend a little time together and hopefully get our game in a good place."

Lineup changes: The Devils have lost three of their last four and according to the Newark Star Ledger, left wing Ryan Carter will miss both games in Washington with a suspected head injury. Rookie Stefan Matteau, a healthy scratch the past three games, will take Carter’s spot at left wing with Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier.

Historically speaking: In their last meeting on Jan. 25 in New Jersey the Capitals fell 3-2 to the Devils in overtime. Adam Oates points to that game as the time the Caps began turning their season around. The Devils went 2-0 at VerizonCenter last season, winning 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 12 and winning 5-0 on March 2.