- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Being far away from Washington and involved in a work project, it was hard to keep up with the Caps on Sunday when they faced the Flyers at Verizon Center.


SEE ALSO: Caps’ Dmitry Orlov suspended 2 games for hit on Schenn


A few texts, a glance here and there at the Caps mobile app and that was about it. With the score 4-2 in their favor as the clock ticked under 10 minutes in the third period, most who follow the team were already doing the standings math and figuring out how things stood. Five wins in a row, moving ahead of Philadelpha, all that good stuff.

Imagine the surprise at the text that showed up not long after: “Lecavalier in OT. L.”

What?

First, how did the game ever get into overtime? A check of the box later revealed a five-minute major taken by Dmitry Orlov, a Flyers power-play goal and a massive shift in momentum. Not to mention a tying goal so close to the end. What should have been a highlight day for Orlov with two goals became a nightmare pretty fast. You simply cannot take that penalty.

You also simply cannot let that game get away when you are fighting for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs, particularly when it is against one of the teams so close to you in the standings. You just can’t. No way, no how, under any circumstances.

This is the situation the Caps have put themselves in with their lackluster play earlier in the season.

It is hard to be too critical of them because they are playing much, much better in recent weeks. They won their last two before the Olympic break and first two afterward. They didn’t let a long losing streak take them completely out of the playoff picture. They recovered and got back in. They’re still very much a playoff contender.

But they’ve reduced their margin of error to exactly zero. They have no more wiggle room, no more leeway to say “oops” and move on. Games like the one they blew — and let’s not try to sugarcoat it with any other words — against the Flyers could have them on the golf course much earlier than they’d like this spring.

Let’s imagine the standings had the Caps managed to hold on to a two-goal lead in the closing minutes. The Caps would have one more point than they earned from the loss. Most important, Philadelphia would have two fewer points.

So we’d see Washington with 69 points and in a playoff spot and Philadelphia with 68 points. In the Metropolitan Division, Washington would be tied for second with the Rangers.

But if you go to the current standings, you see none of that because the Caps couldn’t hold on. Again, it isn’t the point they didn’t get as much as it is the two points the Flyers did get. In the division, Philadelphia sits second with 70 points, the Rangers sit there in third with 69 and Washington is fourth with 68. A small difference and a huge difference all at once.

In the Eastern Conference, Washington sits ninth while Philly looks down on the Caps from the No. 6 spot.

It changes from game to game, of course, but where would you rather see the Caps right now?

With 20 games to go, the Caps are 25 points away from the magic 94-point mark that will likely (but not definitely) mean a playoff spot. An extra point may not seem like much but it could be the difference when the regular season ends April 13.

The team got two points most probably didn’t guess it would get with a very nice win in Boston on Saturday. To come home and beat the Flyers, to win the first three games after the break, would have been a massive confidence boost.

Instead, the Caps are left to explain away another blown two-goal lead, are left to see the Flyers leave town with two points when they were less than 10 minutes away from getting none.

They have a couple of days to lick their wounds, then the games come fast and furious again. Check out this upcoming stretch: at Philadelphia on Wednesday, at Boston on Thursday. At home against Phoenix on Saturday, at home against Pittsburgh on Monday and then at Pittsburgh on Tuesday. They need to win three of those games.

So, yeah, Sunday was big. In the wrong kind of way. When you have no margin for error, you can’t err.