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Going into Thursday on a three-game losing streak, the Caps aren’t just fighting; they’re in desperation mode. Anytime they don’t pick up points, the task of reaching the playoffs becomes more daunting.

“We know how important this game is,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We’re not walking through just thinking, ‘Oh, it’s just another game.’ We know the importance of every single game we’re playing.”

Facing first-place Carolina again adds another layer. The goal for the Caps is to get into the top eight in the Eastern Conference, but players and Oates have talked about possibly needing to win the division to make it.

That would be mighty hard to do if they lose another head-to-head matchup.

“We have to emphasize it as a must-win,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “They’re the team we’re trying to catch in our division here, so we can’t drop any more points, especially against these guys.”

That’s a lot riding on Game 25 of a 48-game regular season. But given where the Caps are in the standings, Oates welcomes the desperation that being so far out of the playoff picture brings for his players.

“I would hope that they are feeling the pressure because I would hope that they do know the standings,” he said.

It’s impossible at this point not to know the situation. It’s getting late very early around the Caps.

“To be honest with you, yeah, I look at the standings. Twenty-three games left, we just have to win more games,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “It’s not over yet, it’s just the middle of the year. But [this] game is very important for us, and probably next week all this road trips is gonna be very important for us. We have to take many as points as we can.”