Monday, March 31, 2008

Don't Turn Around

With the Caps breathing down the necks of not one, not two, not three, but four teams right now it's safe to say that every single player in Philly, Carolina, Boston and yes, New York, are looking in the rearview mirror.

All you have to do is scan the sports pages from these cities to see exactly how much pressure the Caps are putting on everyone.

Boston, a team that has flip-flopped with the Flyers more times than Alexander Semin has fallen down this season, continues to rack up points - but the pace has slowed. They came out of yesterday's snoozefest with a point but still fell to a Buffalo squad clinging to visions of an all-encompassing Eastern Conference crash.

Of course, Caps fans everywhere were wondering why the Sabres needed that extra 39 seconds to score the damn goal...but that's another issue.

In the aftermath of an overtime loss that the Bruins really needed to win and win in regulation, the Boston Globe was particularly pointed when mentioning a certain scrappy bunch from the nation's capital:

The Capitals, let the record show, have gone 12-4-0 (.750) since their tradin'-day acquisitions of No. 1 goalie Cristobal Huet and aged Russian magician Sergei Fedorov. They have traction, and they're just waiting for the Rangers, Flyers, or Bruins to look in the mirror, the one with the fine print warning, "Objects Are Closer Than They Appear." Got that right.

Oh, hey, and let's not forget the Hurricanes, who wrap up their regular season Friday vs. the Panthers in Raleigh. The Canes, in third place overall with 90 points, actually have 1 point fewer than the Rangers, Flyers, and Bruins in sixth. Why? Because they lead the Southeast Division, which is home to . . . you got it, the Capitals.

Readjust that slide rule, because the Caps could slip ahead of the Canes for the divisional crown and thus land the third seed overall. The Canes, no doubt all fitted for oxygen masks to survive the sudden drop, then would slide back into that NYR-Flyer-Bruin scrum for seeds 6-7-8. Misery just loves company.
Then there's the Hurricanes, a team that is certainly starting to feel the pressure (if they weren't before) after falling to the Lightning on Saturday - the same night the Caps were rolling over the Panthers. So sayeth the Raleigh News-Observer:
The Canes went into the evening with a chance to clinch the Southeast Division title. Instead, they now face what may be a winner-take-all showdown with the Capitals in Washington on Tuesday.

"We wanted this one but it didn't happen, and we've got to leave this one here and look forward to Tuesday in Washington," Hurricanes center Eric Staal said. "We have to play a complete game and get a win."

"That's a big game," Laviolette said. "We've got to come up with four points. It doesn't matter how we do it."
In Philly it seems more and more like people are losing faith that the Flyers can pull it off, despite their annoying insistence on scoring late and forcing shootouts. But that's Philly for you:
John Stevens called [Saturday's shootout win over the Islanders] "the gutsiest effort of the year," and said it showed the team's "resilience."

That's only true if the precursor to both characteristics are "listless" and "stupid" - the two words that recur when talking about how this team starts, and too often how it finishes.

Ouch. Rarely a mention of the Caps, but there is a hint of concern there. A sense that the Flyers are pretending they are better than they are - and forcing a shootout against an Islanders team that has been out of the race for weeks and is without their superstar goalie would seem like an area of concern for sure.

And finally, how 'bout them Rangers? For a long time now Jagr's squad has seemed well out of reach and well on their way to a postseason berth. Too far ahead for the Caps to catch...or are they? They join the clusterfu-, er, the cluster of teams around 8th place with 91 points and a game in hand - against a surging Penguins team that beat them yesterday:

The Rangers have found themselves perched so precariously in the Eastern Conference playoff race that they entered Sunday afternoon’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins eyeing the top of the standings and left it — after a 3-1 loss at Mellon Arena — warily eyeing the bottom.
I know for many of us watching tonight's Rangers-Penguins game would be something akin to shoving red-hot pokers under our fingernails and diving face first into a pit of boiling lava. If you can get past that feeling, it's one to keep an eye on for sure. This race is no longer just a three-team race...but adding another team to the mix just improves the Caps' chances.

Of course, none of this compares to the truly sick part of this entire mess. If the Caps remain in the fight for 8th place, they will likely have to root for the Penguins to win out. Pittsburgh has three games remaining, one against the Rangers tonight and two against the Flyers.

If the Penguins win out they clinch the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference crown.

If the Penguins win out and the Caps do the same the Caps are in.

...and who could they face in the first round? Yup. Sick sick sick.

9 comments:

WFY said...

Great post, it helped me come out of the Nationals fog to figure out what is going on.

With 79 games in the books the Caps control their own destiny. That's pretty sweet considering what happened before Thanksgiving. I'd rather that happen than relying on flightless birds.

Tyler said...

Hells Yea!! Go Pens! The best chance you have of getting into the playoffs is for us to win out against NY and Philly.

And what a sick match-up that would be for the first round. :) It would take me back to my youth and the old Patrick division.

bradley said...

It's better for us if the Pens lose tonight, beat Philly twice, and then the Habs win out. That way, the Habs take the East, and we don't have to face our biggest demons in the 1st round. I know, it's not as exciting, but it's probably better for us. Also, in my mind we have a much better chance of catching the Sens than the Rangers. The Rags play the Islanders twice, so probably no help there, whereas the Sens face the Habs, Leafs, and Bruins. They could easily lose all 3 of those games with the way they've been playing lately.

DrCapsFan said...

I almost would rather the Caps not get in than lose to the Penguins... I still have not recovered from the 6 other times we lost to them.

Although, to beat them... OH BOY!!! 1994! What a series!

usually frustrated caps fan said...

Pens or Habs - I don't care - by hook or crook I'm rooting for seein the Playoffs again baby. But I bet Huet would love to knock the Habs out of the playoffs in the first round.Great Post - LETS GO CAPS!

dmg said...

wfy,

The Capitals don't control their own destiny - even if they win out, they might still not get in.

WFY said...

D'oh, I guess you are right.

ctrice said...

Well the Pens couldnt manage to waddle past the Rangers so I guess that scenario is out of the mix. Any team that has already clinched cannot be relied upon to win out (or win at all)at this stage of the game. I dont care what anyone says,psychologically you will not play your best game when you know you are already in.

Tyler said...

ctrice,

you are most definitely right about that, what a sloppy games the Pens played last night. They were lucky to get a point out of it.