When Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau addressed his team shortly after the second of two excruciating losses this weekend, he had a simple message.
Bruce came in and talked after the game and said, 'You know what? From now on we are just going to win,' Caps forward Brooks Laich said.
For the Caps to keep their fleeting postseason hopes alive, they will have to do just that. After taking a day off, the team returned to practice yesterday seven points behind Carolina for the Southeast Division lead and six back of Philadelphia for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference with 12 games remaining.
Washington has a game in hand on Carolina (next Wednesday in Nashville) and two more against the Hurricanes, but should the Caps win those three, they still will need to be two points better over the rest of the season.
Should the teams tie, total wins is the first tiebreaker, and Carolina has five more. The Hurricanes, who play at Chicago tonight, are 8-2-1 in their past 11 games. If they replicate that in their final 11, the Caps won't pass them.
It might be easier for the Caps to catch Philadelphia because of the teams' remaining schedules. Carolina faces only one team in the playoffs (against reeling Ottawa) in its final 11. The Flyers, who are in a tougher division, have eight such games.
But the Caps have no games left with the Flyers, who lost to Toronto last night.
In short, should the Caps play after April 5, it will be an incredible comeback.
This is a test — it is a great test, Boudreau said. We love it when people think we are done. I've told these guys many times the greatest thrill is doing something nobody else thinks you can do. Maybe that is what we can do now.
A few of the players on the team know about fighting for a playoff berth in the final days of the season. Defenseman Tom Poti and forward Viktor Kozlov were with the New York Islanders last year, when they needed a shootout victory in the season's final game to secure the eighth spot.
Goaltender Cristobal Huet played for the Montreal Canadiens when they squeezed into the playoffs as the eighth seed two seasons ago. Boudreau's teams have been comfortably in the playoffs most years and focused on jostling for seeding.
The last time [the final stretch] was a fight for the playoffs was quite frankly with a team I was involved with was in Mississippi in [1997-98 with the Sea Wolves of the East Coast Hockey League], where we went 9-1 in the last 10 games and lost by one point, Boudreau said. Hopefully we'll go 10-0 and get in by one point.
Notes — Nicklas Backstrom addressed the media after practice for the first time since putting the puck in his own net in the waning seconds of Washington's 4-2 loss Sunday against Pittsburgh.
The only thing I can say is that I feel sorry for my teammates, Backstrom said. I was surprised with myself. It is what happened, but life goes on. I don't know it can happen, but it happened, and we have a game tomorrow.
I thought I was further in the corner and I was going to put it behind the net. It happened, but I can't do anything about it. ...
The Caps play host to Hart Trophy candidate Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames tonight. While both teams are battling for a playoff berth, the broadcast also will feature a camera that follows Alex Ovechkin everywhere he goes.
The regular broadcast will be on Comcast SportsNet, but there will be a split-screen of the normal coverage and OvechKam on CSN+.
It will be good, Ovechkin said. It will be fun to watch after the game [to see] what I do. ... It will be new experience for me.
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