- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Barring a scintillating run by the Winnipeg Jets coupled with a brutal collapse by Washington, the Capitals will win the Southeast Division.

Beating up on inferior division opponents helped put the Caps on the verge of making the playoffs, but right wing Troy Brouwer hopes this eight-game winning streak proves something bigger.

“I hope it would show teams that it’s not just because we’re in the division that we’re in,” Brouwer said. “That we’ve worked ourselves out of a real deep hole at the beginning of the season and we’re a team that can’t be overlooked as far as going into the playoffs here because we have a lot of offensive weapons, we’ve been gone in our D-zone cutting down on our goals against, our goalies have been phenomenal, and we’re peaking at the right time.”

Thirteen of 23 victories have come within the Southeast Division, as have 15 of captain Alex Ovechkin’s league-leading 28 goals. But in beating the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps are building a case that they’re more than just the best in a bad division.

“We’re playing some good hockey right now,” Brouwer said. “Toronto’s been playing well as of late, too, so to get a pretty decisive win against them [Tuesday], it shows us that we belong where we are.”

The Caps’ magic number to clinch the Southeast is seven points, either gained by them or lost by Winnipeg.

They’ve won 13 of their past 15 games, two in shootouts and one in overtime. Had they not given up a goal in the final seconds at the Philadelphia Flyers on March 31, the Caps would be on a 10-game winning streak.

“We’ve got everything going: power play, five-on-five and penalty kill,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “If we get that going, it gives you confidence. I feel like we’re playing the right way, and that’s the most important.”

Said left wing Martin Erat, upon returning to the lineup after a brief injury absence, “It’s nice to jump into a train when it’s going.”

Washington is full speed ahead going into Thursday’s game at the Ottawa Senators and Saturday’s contest at Montreal.

But Brouwer said he and his teammates “need to not think about” how well they’re playing. Streaks build on themselves, and coach Adam Oates is letting the snowball effect happen without addressing this run.

“We honestly haven’t talked about statistics, where we are, how many in a row, ‘Man, we’re playing good,’” Oates said. “One of the things we talk about is I expect these guys to be pros. … We focus on little details every day, and hopefully big picture sooner or later it starts to roll.”

It’s rolling now, and the rest of the Eastern Conference is on notice. The Caps will more than likely own the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and home-ice advantage for at least the first round.

And while players are talking about gearing up for the playoffs before clinching a spot, they’re not buying into the hype that winning generates.

“We’re not getting overconfident right now, which is good,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We’re making strides in all areas of the game right now. We’re taking pieces of the previous game to make sure we improve on them without forgetting about the stuff that we’ve learned in the past, too.”

Oates said “all the little factors” have added up to contribute to the Caps’ streak. Holtby has a 2.61 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in his six starts, while backup Michal Neuvirth allowed just four goals on the 59 shots he faced in two games.

Add in 10 goals and four assists from Ovechkin and consistent production from Backstrom, Brouwer and Marcus Johansson, and it’s easy to see why confidence is oozing from the Caps.

“I’d say as high as it’s been in a very long time, maybe since I’ve been here,” said Brouwer, who’s in his second season with Washington. “[We] put eight wins together in a lot of different ways, a couple shootouts, a couple pretty decisive wins, a few where you’ve got to battle it out and scratch it out. We’re finding ways to win, we’re playing really good hockey and we just know that everyone’s coming to play every night.”

It’s a far cry from where the Caps were not too long ago, languishing near the basement of the Eastern Conference thanks to a 2-8-1 start. They’re 22-9-1 since.

“Obviously we had a tough start, but it’s always fun to bounce back and we showed everyone that we were a good team,” Backstrom said. “We have that feeling in the group, too, so that’s great.”

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