Sitting on his couch wrapped in a blanket, Troy Brouwer had an interesting view of his Washington Capitals and the rest of the NHL on Tuesday night. Laid up with an illness, he was able to watch as the Southeast Division-rival Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers all won.
Had the Caps not been able to erase a three-goal deficit to beat the Boston Bruins in overtime, they would have fallen into last place in the Eastern Conference.
“We know that this week and last week are very crucial for putting ourselves in a spot to make the playoffs,” Brouwer said. “If we lose any more ground, it’s going to be kind of hopeless going forward.”
That desperate attitude is still present as the Caps turn their attention to three games in four days. But in beating the Bruins, they staved off the hopelessness and built up some much-needed momentum.
“It’s huge for your confidence to come back against a team like the Bruins who are one of the top teams in the East,” defenseman Tom Poti said. “I think it can lift our spirits and kind of get our swagger back a little bit.”
Swagger and confidence aren’t in high supply for a team that has been looking up at most of the conference for the better part of the past month. But the mood is improved by the emotional victory against Boston, Washington’s seventh win in the past 10 games.
“I think our mindset might change after that win,” left wing Aaron Volpatti said.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who will make his 11th straight start Thursday night against the Panthers, called it “the type of performance [like] we showed last year in playoffs.”
That might be a bit of hyperbole for a team still five points out of playoff position and eight back of the division-leading Hurricanes. With that in mind, coach Adam Oates is trying to maintain an even keel.
“You can’t get too high and too low. Obviously you’ve got to enjoy it,” Oates said. “A lot of positives … but you have to turn the page. It’s a new game tomorrow and we’re right back at it.”
Facing three games from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon doesn’t allow a whole lot of time to revel in a comeback. But there are lessons to be learned from storming back against Boston.
“I think it says a lot about our character,” said Eric Fehr, who scored the game-winner. “This team believes in ourselves a lot more than we did at the beginning of the season. We’re a pretty confident bunch right now and we’re believing in the system and that’s why it doesn’t matter who’s on which line. We’re playing together as a team and that’s why we’re able to win.”
Two straight victories won’t erase the Caps’ start, but this is where the compressed schedule can play in their favor. Thursday begins a stretch of 14 games in 25 days.
While Oates acknowledged “the schedule doesn’t let up,” this is a chance to pick up points in bunches.
“That’s the benefit of this schedule, or the downfall if you’re struggling, right?” Volpatti said. “We’re on a little bit of a roll now here, so [we’re] just trying to get as many wins as we can in a short period of time.”
Oates didn’t want to gloss over a hardworking victory at the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, but beating the Bruins provided this jolt of positivity. The Caps erased a late deficit at the Panthers last month, but this was Boston, an imposing opponent that won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
“We can kind of use it as a steppingstone that we can compete with anybody in this league,” Poti said. “It’s just huge for your confidence. Confidence is a big thing in this game, and it gave us some huge confidence and hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
Psychologically, the Caps are feeling good. But a slow start or a couple of losses can quickly derail things. What Tuesday also showed is that Oates’ system works, even coming from behind.
“We just stick with what we have to do,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “We know how to play now; it’s just a matter of do it day in and day out.”