The Capitals have been playing good hockey lately, keeping themselves firmly in the picture to make the Stanley Cup playoffs. They got five of a possible six points on a difficult west coast swing. They had earned a point in six straight games.
But a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center took an eraser, at least temporarily, to all the good feeling the Caps had built up in their recent games. They don’t need reminders that they can’t afford even one bad game as they try to extend their streak of playoff appearances to seven.
“We had an opportunity … we knew that,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We weren’t able to capitalize on it. You have to give the Bruins credit. They’re first in the east for a reason. [But] it is one of those games we need to have no matter what.”
Caps coach Adam Oates didn’t try to hide his displeasure afterward. He came off as a mix of frustrated, aggravated and upset.
Down 3-0 midway through the second, the Caps did play a lot better in the second half of the game. They still ended the day with no standings points.
“Attention to detail was lousy the first 30 minutes,” Oates said. “I think we were waiting to see how they’d come out. I was shocked at the start.
“You never expect so many consecutive plays where you make the wrong decision, the wrong pass or a bad pass. It’s been a long time since we’ve done that. We have been good lately. I expected a way better start than that.”
The regular season ends two weeks from today, a span that will cover eight games for the Caps including Sunday night’s in Nashville. They have three at home, five on the road.
They currently have 80 standings points, the same number as Columbus, Detroit and Toronto had to start Saturday. They are on the wrong side of the tiebreakers, so Washington needs to finish ahead of at least two of those teams to get into postseason.
Most figure it will take 92 points. It may take less, it may take more.
“Obviously, everybody knows where we are,” Caps forward Eric Fehr said. “It is our job to win. It doesn’t matter what other teams do around the league. It’s our job to win. I think our team is really good with that. We don’t talk about the scoreboard watching and standings watching. We go out and play. We’ve been down this road before. We know what we have to do.”
Holtby thinks it may take fewer than 92 points. Defenseman Karl Alzner said he was looking at the standings before Saturday’s game and figured the Caps needed to find a way to win at least six more games.
“We have something to play for,” Alzner said, “and we have to play like it is pretty much us against the world.”
That means from the start of the game, not from somewhere in the middle. Would it have made much difference against one of the best teams in the league? That’s unknown, but the Caps know they’re not going to beat anybody with poor starts.
“You saw it in the third period,” Fehr said. “We have the ability to take over games. We just can’t wait that long.”