- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

The stat sheet in the Washington Capitals' press room had the following written across the top with a black marker:
"Season Over No Playoffs."
Turns out the message was a bit premature and not intended for the Caps.
The note was on a stat sheet for the Caps' minor league club in Portland, Maine. But it could be a premonition for the Caps, given the team's bleak future before last night's game against Chicago at MCI Center.
If the Caps lost, their season would be over. They still would have two games left to play Friday night in Buffalo and Saturday night at MCI Center against New Jersey.
Today the message should be "Hanging on by our fingernails" after last night's 3-1 win over the Blackhawks.
It's a precarious grip. Montreal clinched the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with a 4-3 win over Ottawa last night, so that closes the door there. Now, for the Caps to get into the playoffs, they have to win their final two games and hope Carolina loses its last three, thereby blowing its lead for the Southeast Division title (Carolina plays Tampa Bay tonight). If not, it will be a long, boring spring and summer for Washington Caps fans. There's the Kemper, and then there's Redskins training camp.
Give the Caps credit for not folding when everyone expected them to after Adam Oates was traded. It appeared that the organization was raising the surrender flag on a disappointing season, but instead the players seemed to rally and have gone 8-2-1 since the deal was made.
"When management makes a change like that, you wonder, what are they thinking?" Jaromir Jagr said in a recent interview. "Probably that we would not make the playoffs, let's look to next season and start over again. But after we beat Colorado [3-0 on March 19 in Denver], we got our confidence back, and it has been building up ever since.
"Maybe if we win every game, we might not make it, and that would be too bad because I think we could do some damage in the playoffs and have some upsets," Jagr said.
That's what would make it all the more maddening if the Caps don't somehow manage to slip into the playoffs. The way the are playing now, it could be interesting.
The notion that the Caps would be barely battling for a final playoff position would have seemed ludicrous before the season. No Stanley Cup, maybe, but no playoffs? With the arrival of Jagr, it would have been foolish even to consider that the Caps would not be playing in the postseason.
Even when Washington got off to a poor start, going 5-6-1 in October, the thought of not being able to take a shot at the Stanley Cup with Jagr in a Caps uniform instead of as a Penguin seemed farfetched. "Early on I was joking that we might not even make the playoffs," owner Ted Leonsis said.
Ha, ha, baby.
It could be worse. The Caps could have failed for no other reason than they were a bad team put together through bad decisions, like the Redskins have been for the past two years (Dan Snyder may yet get that Deion deal to pay off if he can bring him to town to play center field). Think about that one. Think about a Caps team with a healthy Jagr and a healthy Steve Konowalchuk and a healthy Calle Johannson and a healthy Jeff Halpern and still having them not make the playoffs. That would be much worse because there would be no hope for redemption next season.
That is the solace that Caps fans will have to get through the offseason. There were so many factors that contributed to a disappointing season Johannson out for the year after just a month into the season, Konowalchuk missing 54 games, Halpern missing the second half of the season and Jagr missing 12 games from injuries at a critical time when he was trying to fit into a new team, a new organization and a new town.
These injuries shouldn't be excuses, because there are no excuses for not being able to play just well enough to slip into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Injuries or not, you find a way to get there.
Hoping another team loses its final games, while you have to win all yours, is as tough a way as you will find to get there. But this is the final stretch of the bumpy road for the Washington Capitals, who will play the hand they have dealt themselves. "Our guys aren't about to think it's over," coach Ron Wilson said last night.

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