[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
The magnetic schedule adorning my refrigerator may say "ATL," but for all intents and purposes, the Caps' next three games are against the New Jersey Devils.
The Caps enter their season-ending road trip with a slim two-point lead for the Conference's second seed over Jersey, with the latter holding the first tie-breaker (wins). In other words, if the Caps get five points, second is theirs. If not, things could get interesting.
Eschewing "we're taking it one game at a time," "all we can do is go out there and play our game and not worry about what anyone else is doing," and similar cliches, let's take a look at the remaining schedules for the two squads in question:
- Washington: Tuesday @ Atlanta, Thursday @ Tampa Bay, Saturday @ Florida
- New Jersey: Tuesday vs Toronto, @ Ottawa, Saturday vs Carolina
Each team faces (perhaps) one playoff team who may or may not have something for which to play on Saturday (the Devils/'Canes game is at 1:00, while the Caps will finish their season later that evening, for what it's worth), and two teams that are in the League's bottom eight, with the Caps' two opponents buying (not renting) prime real estate in Lotteryville.
And how have the teams fared this season against their remaining opponents?
The Caps are 3-2-0 against Atlanta (but haven't won there yet this season), 5-0-0 against Tampa (and 10-0-0 against the Bolts under Bruce Boudreau) and 3-2-0 against Florida (including a pair of wins at Sunrise). The Devils are 1-0-2 against the Leafs (all three games have required more than 60 minutes to find a winner), 3-0-0 against Ottawa, and 0-3-0 against the 'Canes. Total it up, and the Caps are 11-4-0 on the season against their remaining opponents, while Jersey is 4-3-2 against theirs. The Devils are also just 3-6-1 in their last ten, while the Caps are 8-2-2 in their last dozen.
What do all those numbers mean? Nothing.
The Caps simply need to go out and play their game and not worry about what anyone else is doing and take it one game at a time. If they play well, the standings will take care of themselves, and, more importantly, the team will head into the playoffs with momentum, be it as a number two or a number three seed. Sunday's third period was a good start. Let's see if they can keep it up tonight against the Devils, err, Thrashers.