- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2012

BOSTON — Karl Alzner is right. There have been a lot of third periods this year when the Washington Capitals were able to make it look like that game was the most important one they ever played.

Now, with a playoff berth on the line in the final four games, that has to be a constant.

“We’re going to have to be a desperate hockey team, every single second of every game,” the defenseman said. “It’s going to start right from the drop of the puck. And I just hope we can carry it out for the full 60 minutes.”

Desperate better describe the Caps down the stretch, as an inconsistent season has put them on the fringe of the playoff picture. As much as Dale Hunter has stressed playoff hockey, it’s hard to drum up that kind of intensity in February and early March, but right now it’s the way it has to be.

“We’ve got to do whatever it takes to win hockey games, whether it’s blocking shots or any of those little intangibles that are going to help us win,” forward Matt Hendricks said.

Asked what the Caps had to do, forward Joel Ward said: “Win. That’s pretty simple. Win and you’re in, I guess.”

Washington no longer controls its destiny and is forced to root against the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators in the hopes that one of those teams stumbles.

That’s an unusual position for this Washington core, which has been accustomed to comfortable leads and just jockeying for seeding.

“We’ve always had seasons like last year and the year before; being in such a close battle right up to the end is a little bit different,” Alzner said. “I like the pressure and that every game is so meaningful. It is nice, but I think starting to experience both I think I prefer to go in with a little more ease.”

Ease is not a luxury the Caps can afford right now. So they’ll be leaning on the handful of guys in the locker room who have recent experiences going through similar situations.

Ward and the Nashville Predators made the playoffs twice in his three years there, once finishing 10th and out of it. Hendricks and the Colorado Avalanche won just three of their final 13 games during his lone full season there but made it in. Brouwer and the Chicago Blackhawks backed into the eighth seed last year.

Vokoun and the Panthers missed in 2008-09 despite winning eight of the final 10 games. That’s a painful possibility for these Caps.

“We still weren’t in control of what’s going to happen,” Vokoun said, recalling that miss and turning to this season. “Right now, we shouldn’t be looking at anything, just at winning … and playing like we need to.”

Brouwer said it’s just a matter of getting points. That could mean needing to get six or more of the final eight available. Ward called this “familiar territory” for him and voiced confidence.

“I think once you just believe in your abilities and your teammates, I think once everyone kind of gets that respect from one another moving forward, I think we’ll execute,” Ward said. “I’m not worried at all. I know it’s different territory for a lot of people, but you’ve just got to stay in the moment and be relaxed and execute.”