The Washington Times - March 17, 2011, 04:53PM

This just in: The Capitals like playing in close games. Or, at least if they don’t like it, they’re used to it.

Of their 72 games this season, 39 of them have been decided by a goal, and 19 of them have gone to overtime or a shootout. It might give fans some quickened heart beats, but success in these kinds of games has followed.


“It’s been fun. In times past, we’ve just felt like we can outscore teams,” forward Mike Knuble said earlier in the week. “We’ve been real stingy, and everybody’s committed to it; everybody’s excited to play that way, and it’s rewarding for us to play that way.”

Washington is 22-8-9 in one-goal games this season. Since Valentine’s Day, all but two of the Caps’ games have fit that bill. Coach Bruce Boudreau said it was a product of confidence.

“I think they’re confident, that they feel comfortable that if it’s a one-goal lead, we can defend it,” he said earlier in the week at Verizon Center. “They feel that they’re gonna score. Even though we haven’t scored a lot of goals this year, they feel that they can score when push comes to shove.”

The Caps never had a lead to defend in their 3-2 loss to the Red Wings on Wednesday night, a game they played without Eric Fehr, Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Arnott and Mike Green. But as players and coaches have said, hockey down the stretch gets tighter, so even close losses can be beneficiary in April and beyond.

“We’ve played some good games,” Brooks Laich said. “It seems like every game we play is really tight.”

That’s not any assurance that the Caps will make a long Stanley Cup Playoffs run – and no guarantee they’ll get out of the first round – but the Blackhawks played in 40 one-goal games last season.

What it does is provide something useful – even if it’s much more technical than just confidence or lack thereof. Like Knuble’s game-winner against the Blackhawks last Sunday, pretty goals don’t always get the job done. The Caps have realized that, and it should prepare them well for what’s coming up.

“If you watch playoff games, they’re ugly; you’re kicking them in around the crease, guys diving for the puck and trying to jam it in,” Knuble said. “You’re gonna have the odd tic-tac-toe play, but the way you’re gonna win games is just who’s gonna be grittier around the net, who’s gonna get which pucks around the net.”