This hasn't been the easiest of seasons for the Caps or their fans; time and time again we've been faced with disappointing efforts and lackluster performances from a team that is expected to do so much more - and often when that team needs the win the most. As a result, the Caps head into their final two games of the season deadlocked with the Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot (although they do hold the tiebreaker) and trailing the Florida Panthers by three points for the Southeast Division lead.
It's a precarious position for a team that, for the past few years, has found themselves coasting into a playoff spot by early March - and one that probably is owed in some small part to past regrets, missed opportunities and lost points.
Yet if they do manage to make it to the postseason, there are more than a few games on which they could look back with relief rather than regret, points they've stolen and teams they've surprised that helped them get over that final hump. When every point counts (as it appears they will by the end of the weekend), it's the games the Caps shouldn't have won that may make the difference:
10. Vs. New York Islanders, February 28. "They've been presented with opportunities to grab a playoff spot and lock it down for over a month now. It's time they reach out and snatch one." It's not often that the Caps are the better team early but still trail - and yet that's what happened in this one, finding themselves down 1-0 after a dominant first period. A second Islanders goal just two minutes into the third seemed as if it would spell defeat for the home team... and the Caps took their sweet time letting that thought sink in before all hell broke loose late in the third. First it was Troy Brouwer cutting the lead in half with less than four minutes to go; then it was Brouwer again, tying this baby up with 26 seconds left in regulation. All that was left was a patented unassisted Alex Ovechkin overtime winner to cap off the dramatic finish. A game that should've been a gimme, sure, and there's no extra prize for beating a team below you in the standings - but staving off disaster against the Isles makes this a "happy to win" game for sure. Because if they didn't... Final score: Caps 3, Islanders 2
9. At Columbus, December 31. "Happy New Year!" A two-goal night for Alex Ovechkin and a three-point night for Dennis Wideman helped fuel the final win of 2011 for the Caps - thus preventing this game from showing up in a post of a different kind. Because while a game against the League's last place team isn't a gimme by any stretch of the imagination, a loss would surely be one to regret. For awhile there it looked like this was headed in that direction, too, as the Caps staked the Blue Jackets to a two-goal lead early on and required a furious third period comeback to make things right. Final score: Caps 4, Blue Jackets 2
8. At Boston, March 10. "Wins against good teams aren't always going to be pretty, and this one certainly wasn't."Right smack in the middle of the road trip of doom came a visit to the defending Cup champs, the Boston Bruins, for one of the games many Caps fans probably penciled in as a loss before the puck even dropped. Obviously they were all wrong, but it wasn't an easy win by any stretch, as the Caps and Bruins traded goals right up to the final minutes of the game - when the good guys held on for dear life and a one-goal lead to get the two points. Final score: Caps 4, Bruins 3
7. Vs. Phoenix, November 21. "The Caps followed up two of their worst performances in the Boudreau era with one of their best games of the season." After stumbling on the road just days earlier, the Caps returned home to face an unfamiliar foe (albeit with a familiar face) and seemed content to continue on with their losing ways. Before the contest was at the halfway mark the Coyotes had jumped out to a 2-0 lead, a shorthanded goal and a shorthanded penalty shot pacing their offense. But the Caps would storm back with four goals of their own en route to a much-needed win - although not before Lauri Korpikoski's goal midway through the third made things a bit more interesting. Because everyone loves a little drama. Final score: Caps 4, Coyotes 3
6. At Pittsburgh, October 13. "Fortunately for Washington, hockey games aren't scored like boxing matches." In their first meeting of the season, the Caps headed to CONSOL Energy Center hoping to extend their season-opening win streak to three games. Upon arrival, they traded goals - and blows - with the Pens en route to a two-two tie at the end of regulation. That it was tied at all was something of a miracle considering the Caps were outshot 41-19; that it was actually a Caps lead until James Neal's power play goal late in the third made it a tie game, even more of a miracle. And then like sunshine through a dark cloud, the hockey gods bestowed upon the Caps a power play in overtime - the first minor penalty the Pens took all game - andDennis Wideman made sure it would be the only one they'd need. Final score: Caps 3, Penguins 2
5. Vs. Pittsburgh, January 11. "[E]ven without some of the stars, it still had all the intensity and skill of two powerhouse teams battling for eighth place in the conference." At the start of the season it's likely that not many people would have predicted that line could be written about a Caps-Pens game in January, but there it was, a battle between two rivals yet missing some of the biggest pieces from their respective lineups. The show must go on, though, and as is the case with most games between the two teams it wasn't lacking for drama or excitement. And despite the strong efforts from the stars who did dress, it would eventually be a lone tally from Jason Chimeraand the stellar work of Tomas Vokoun for his 46th career shutout that would put the Caps over the top. Final score:Caps 1, Penguins 0
4. Vs. Boston, January 24. "No Alex Ovechkin. No Nicklas Backstrom. No Mike Green." That would be the story going into this one (well, that and some other stuff), the first meeting of the season between the depleted Caps and the Bruins. With Ovechkin suspended and Backstrom and Green on the shelf with injuries, the Caps would be forced to take on the last guys to lift the Stanley Cup without their three best players - the first time since they were drafted that such a thing had happened. No stars? No problem, because Mathieu Perreault came to play, picking up his first career hat trick in a game that wasn't pretty and certainly wasn't without mistakes but which had the desired (if highly improbably) outcome. Final score: Caps 5, Bruins 3
3. At Detroit, March 19. "A win in a tough barn on the second of back-to-back games goes a long way toward salvaging a road trip..." If a trip to Boston in mid-March looked like a disaster waiting to happen, it was nothing compared to what a trip to Joe Louis Arena appeared to be. Sight of an NHL record home winning streak and a team not that far removed from its own Stanley Cup, the Joe was an intimidating place for the Caps to try and bounce back from a no-show loss in Chicago the day before. But bounce back they did, on the back of their captain and his two-goal performance (including a rare and elusive road power play goal) and a bit of nail-biting at the end en route to a very unlikely win in Detroit. Final score: Caps 5, Red Wings 3
2. Vs. Anaheim, November 1. "[A] game is 60 minutes long - not 30 - and the Caps managed to claw and fight their way back..." For whatever reason, games against the Anaheim Ducks tend to be filled with all kinds of intrigue and entertainment, and this one was no different. First the Caps would stumble to a three-goal deficit, allowing their guests to have the run of Verizon Center with little pushback. Slowly but surely, however, the Caps climbed back into it, turning 3-0 into 3-2, then 4-2 into 4-4 before Backstrom would put the game away in overtime. After the fact the furious comeback would be overshadowed by some in-game antics between a coach and a star... but ultimately this game would go down as one of the more unlikely and thrilling comebacks of the Caps season. Final score: Caps 5, Ducks 4.
1. Vs. New York Islanders, March 13. "Maybe not how the Caps drew it up, but the result is what matters..." Of course if you really want a thrilling comeback, there have been none better than the one that took place just a few weeks ago on Long Island. Kicking off their season-long five-game road trip against the Islanders, this seemed like the one game of the five that the Caps should win and win easily... except no one told the Isles that. They quickly took advantage of a sleepy and sloppy Caps team to jump out to a seemingly unbeatable 3-0 lead, then 4-1 after a brief glimpse of life from the visitors. But then came an Ovechkin tally in the dying seconds of the middle frame to cut it to 4-2. And a goal from Dmitry Orlov to make it a one-goal game. And another Ovechkin marker to even things up at four before heading into the shootout. Enter Matt Hendricks, exit the Caps with two points that had seemed impossible just twenty minutes earlier. Final score: Caps 5, Islanders 4 (SO)
So there you have it - plenty of wins that shouldn't have been but were, plenty of points that could easily be categorized as "stolen". Ten games, 20 points grabbed in a race that looks to be coming down to the very last one. One bounce the wrong way in overtime, one catching glove not getting up in time, one Hendricks shootout move that doesn't fool the goalie and suddenly that tight race the Caps are in perhaps isn't even a race.
It just goes to show that when you need every point you can get, there's no such thing as a "bad" win.
Oh, and since we detailed all of the Caps' blown leads in losses yesterday, we thought we'd take a look at their comebacks in wins today, visually represented in the chart below. The x-axis is game number, the y-axis time elapsed in a given game; the bubbles represent individual games in which the Caps came back and won, with the opponent as the bubble label, the size of the comeback (from one to three goals) reflected by the bubble size.
Ah, cardiac Caps, don't ever change. (Photo via clydeorama)