- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

When Washington lost three straight games and then traded aging NHL assists leader Adam Oates to Philadelphia for future help on March 19, it seemed the Capitals had given up on the 2001-02 season. Far from it, apparently.
Since the trade, the Caps have won six of seven games to move above .500 for the first time in five months and, with two weeks left in the season, have gained a tenuous hold on the eighth Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The battle for that final postseason berth now seems all but sure to come down to Washington and Montreal, each of which has 77 points after dramatic home-ice victories over conference foes on Saturday night. Each team has advantages, but the Caps have more.
Washington's biggest edge is the victory column. The Caps (33-32-10-1) have won two more games than the Canadiens (31-29-12-3), and that's the first playoff tiebreaker. The Caps also have been playing better hockey of late, going 7-4-1 in their last 12 games, nine of which were on the road. The Canadiens are just 4-4-4 in their last dozen games, six of which were at home.
Montreal's most important advantage is that it has seven remaining games, one more than Washington. However, a closer look at the schedule shows that edge isn't what it seems. The Canadiens, who are just 12-17-6-2 on the road, play four of their final seven games away from Molson Centre. The Caps, who are 19-12-5-1 at home, play four of their final six games at MCI Center.
Montreal plays six teams the rest of the way including Ottawa twice and has a 9-7-1 record against its remaining foes 3-0 vs. the Penguins, 2-1 vs. the Devils, 1-1-1 vs. Ottawa, 1-0 against Columbus, 1-3 against the Sabres and 1-2 vs. the Flyers.
Washington also plays six teams over the final weeks of the season and has a 9-5-2 mark against them. It plays Chicago, which it has yet to face this season, Tampa Bay (3-1) and the New York Islanders (2-0-1). However, Washington is just 1-2 against both the Senators and Sabres but is 2-1 against the Devils.
Another advantage for the Caps is the confidence that comes from making the playoffs in all but two of the past 19 years.
Goalie Olie Kolzig, forwards Peter Bondra, Andrei Nikolishin and Chris Simon and defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Ken Klee and Brendan Witt (Gonchar and Klee are currently injured) all played on coach Ron Wilson's 1998 Stanley Cup finalists. Goalie Craig Billington, forwards Ulf Dahlen, Dmitri Khristich, Steve Konowalchuk, Glen Metropolit, Joe Sacco and Dainius Zubrus and defensemen Sylvain Cote and Rob Zettler also all have skated in postseason for Washington. And forwards Benoit Hogue (Dallas) and Jaromir Jagr (Pittsburgh) have won Cups with other teams.
In contrast, the Canadiens haven't made the playoffs since 1998, when only four current players (then-backup goalie Jose Theodore and defensemen Patrice Brisebois, Stephane Quintal and Craig Rivet) were with the team. Coach Michel Therrien and seven of his players have never been in a Stanley Cup playoff game, and only three Canadiens (center Doug Gilmour, left wing Bill Lindsay and ex-Cap Joe Juneau) have been to the finals.


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