Desperation. Urgency. Pressure.
Those are three words we’ll hear a lot from the Capitals over the next few weeks as they attempt to do something they have not done all season -- win 10 of their final 15 games.
That, in a nutshell, is what the Caps likely will need – a 10-3-2 record -- if they hope to extend their playoff appearances to seven straight years.
“I don’t think we have to talk about it every day,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We understand what the situation is and I’m pretty sure the guys are going to respond well.
“We just have to play our game. That’s the most important thing for us. We just have to play how we played the third period against Pittsburgh last game and how we played the whole game we lost at home.”
“We’ve been in this situation a lot of times and we have to fight through it. We have experience and I’m pretty sure that’s going to help.”
Last season the Caps used a 15-2-2 run to climb up the Eastern Conference standings and clinch the seventh seed and a first-round playoff date with the New York Rangers. Those games were all against conference opponents.
This season, the Caps find themselves three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the final wild card spot. But the Caps are also one point behind the Devils and Red Wings and have played two more games than the Flyers and Detroit and one more than the Devils. Nine of their final 15 games, including Friday night's home game against Vancouver, are against teams in the Western Conference. The Caps are 9-8-2 against the West this season.
“Everyone knows we’re going to need at least 10 wins or more to have a chance,” Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said. “If we want to make the playoffs we have to realize we have to start dominating games and win a lot more than we lose.”
The biggest problem lately has been the Capitals’ ability to start games strong. In Tuesday night’s loss to the Penguins the Caps were outshot 26-12 in the first two periods before playing with desperation and dominating the third period.
“I think we’ve got to play like we played the second half of the game the other night every night,” Oates said. “We’ve got to play desperate hockey.”
Oates said he thought his players looked mentally tired in the first period in Pittsburgh and played “really good hockey” in the final 40 minutes. He said the Caps no longer can afford to make the mistakes they’ve been making if they want to win enough games to get into the playoffs.
“I think a lot of people do better when they’re called upon in tough situations like this,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said. “A lot the guys in here relish the opportunity. It’s a tight race and there’s so much pride and determination in this locker room and we need to pick our game up so we can get into the playoffs.”