Caps recap: Banged-up Capitals coming down the home stretch

March 31, 2011|By Matt Vensel

With five games left in the regular season, the Capitals have pretty much locked up the Southeast Division title and are likely to secure the second seed in the Eastern Conference. But Washington coach Bruce Boudreau doesn't want his team to let up. "All of these games are important to us," he told The Washington Post.

And it's not because the Capitals trail the Flyers by three points in the conference standings. The Capitals mailed it in down the stretch last season, and were unable to get back on track in the playoffs. Sure, Jaroslav Halak stood on his head for the Canadiens in the first round, but the Capitals were clearly out of sync.

The Capitals looked like a different team down the stretch this year. They have played with intensity. They are no longer indifferent to their defensive responsibilities. All three young goalies have performed well when their number has been called. And most importantly, they were poised to enter the postseason with momentum.

But the injuries have been piling up and they threaten to slow down the Capitals in the final weeks of the regular season. Alex Ovechkin missed three games before returning to the lineup Tuesday night. But defenseman Dennis Wideman, a pleasant surprise since coming over before the trade deadline, suffered a lower-body injury that could sideline him for while. He had done an admirable job filling in for Mike Green, who hasn't played since late February, and could return soon.

Michael Neuvirth, the goalie I think Boudreau should go with in the playoffs given his track record at Hershey, is expected to start tonight against the Blue Jackets after a bout with illness. Keep him in there, I say.

The good news is that the Capitals, who have lost three of their past six games after a nine-game winning streak, have five games to get healthy and back in the groove. If that happens, they are poised to go on a nice playoff run, one that shouldn't end with a disappointing first-round exit like a year ago.

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