[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
And... exhale. We made it.
And what better way to start the final seventeen forty-firsts of the season (second half, too those of you who are comfortable with rounding a bit) than with a battle between the Eastern Conference's top two teams in a rematch of one of the season's most entertaining games, played just two Saturdays ago?
The gap is narrowing, baby! At this rate, the Caps will pass the B's with three games left in the regular season to claim the Eastern crown (and wouldn't that be dramatic?). Anyway, they'll go a long way towards that goal - and, perhaps more importantly, the goal of getting back to .500 on the road for the first time since mid-October - with a win tonight.
In a game like this, however, two points might be only slightly more important than a strong effort, something the Caps haven't been able to generate with any consistency on the road against lottery-bound teams and other non-playoff competition, much less against the beasts of the East - the Caps' last win away from the Verizon Center against a team currently in either conference's top eight was in Buffalo way back on December 30. Granted, they've only had one such opportunity since then (at Montreal), but now would be a good time for this team to start flexing a little muscle on the road - no team in the top ten in the Eastern Conference has fewer points on the road than the Caps, and no team in the Conference has played more road games.
Then again, the Caps are 6-3-0 in their last nine away from home, including wins at Montreal, Buffalo, the Rangers, and Pittsburgh, so there's that rosy spin to take the edge off of last week's back-to-back stinkers on the Isle and in Ottawa. In fact, since I told you not to worry about the Caps' road record, they've gone 2-2-0. See? .500 - no worries.
We all know the talent is there. And they're as healthy as they've been in what seems like ages. But with nearly a week off - much of it spent away from hockey for many of the players - one wonders if the team might be a little rusty, to say nothing of the persistent focus issues they've shown on the road.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Scott Burnside suggests that the Caps could use Tomas Kaberle. I, in turn, suggest that the Leafs could use Michael Nylander. Trade rumor!... Some fresh power rankings are out, with the Caps up three to fourth at Sportsnet.ca, holding at fourth at CBSSports.com and SportingNews.com, down two to sixth at The Hockey News, holding in third at ESPN.com, and down one to sixth at TSN.ca.... Down on the farm, Keith Aucoin is waiting patiently for another shot in the NHL and Chris Bourque puckers up to Gary Bettman (and C-Bo joined AO with All-Star Game GWGs this week).... Another level down, Keith Seabrook has been named WHL Player of the Week.... Today's Cap of the Day is a former Bruin as well.... On this date fifteen years ago, the Caps canned Terry Murray and replaced him behind the bench with Jim Schoenfeld. Schoney's Caps would finish the season on a 19-12-6 run and then beat the Penguins in six games in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Rangers in five in the Eastern Conference semis.... Finally, Happy 54th Birthday to former Cap (and Versus' own) Brian Engblom.