April 8 vs. St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (35-30-13)
St. Louis Blues (52-19-7)
Washington heads out on the road for the final time in 2013-14, finishing up the back half of a four-game road swing with visits to St. Louis and Raleigh, respectively. The Caps take on the Blues in the Gateway City on Tuesday night in their first visit to St. Louis since Dec. 1, 2010.
The Caps won that last game in St. Louis, more than three years ago. They downed the Blues 4-1 behind a 37-save effort in net from Semyon Varlamov. Washington defeated Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak in that game, ending an eight-game drought (0-7-1) in St. Louis that stretched back to Oct. 26, 1996.
Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon added single markers to account for the Caps’ offense that night. Playing against his old Blues teammates for the first time since being traded to Washington, D.J. King picked up an assist for the Capitals.
That victory left the Caps with an 18-6-2 record, starting the month of December – and a month under the harsh glare HBO’s “24/7” spotlight – on a high note. Things began to unravel the next night in Dallas when the Caps lost a 2-1 decision to the Stars. Then-Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was livid afterwards because officials disallowed a John Carlson goal that would have evened the score in the waning seconds.
The loss in Dallas was the first of eight straight (0-6-2), a skid that led to a great deal of organizational soul searching and eventually a mid-season system change that altered the way Washington worked on the ice. Things haven’t been quite the same in these parts since, so that win in St. Louis nearly three and a half years ago can be looked at as the end of an era in some ways.
“If you’d have told me when I got here that we wouldn’t have a Stanley Cup by now,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera, “I would have said ‘You’re lying.’ That’s how good our teams were, especially that first year I got here [2009-10]. We won the Presidents’ Trophy and I’ve never been on a better team. It was just unreal. We came back and won games. If you had told me then that two, three or four years down the road we wouldn’t have a Stanley Cup by know I would have said, ‘You’re [bleeping] kidding me.’ That’s how good those teams were.
“It’s very frustrating now. It seems like we should have gone to at least a couple of conference finals or Cup finals for sure.”
The 2013-14 edition of the Capitals clings to faint playoff hopes as it reaches St. Louis, but Washington has no margin for error. Its tragic number has dropped to four, and it needs to win each of its four remaining games and get some help from other teams if it hopes to earn a seventh straight berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I think we created [this situation] ourselves by not closing out the games when we had a chance,” says Caps goaltender Jaroslav Halak. “Now we have to play one game at a time. I think right now we need to keep getting points; that’s the bottom line. We can’t lose. We have four games left in the regular season and we need to leave everything out there and try to get all the points.”
The Caps faced St. Louis on home ice back on Nov. 17 of this season, and Washington turned in one of its better 60-minute performances of the campaign in that contest. The Caps scored three goals in the first period and cruised to a 4-1 win over the Blues, dropping St. Louis to 13-3-3 in the process.
That victory briefly lifted Washington into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Caps’ time in the catbird’s seat ended when they suffered a 4-0 home ice whitewashing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins in their next game. That setback was the first of four straight losses that followed a 7-1-1 run, the Caps’ best stretch of the season.
For two members of the Capitals, Tuesday’s game against the Blues marks a homecoming of sorts.
Halak started the season in St. Louis before moving briefly to Buffalo and then to Washington late in the season.
“Obviously they’re one of the best teams in the league even though they’ve lost two in a row right now,” says Halak of the Blues. “I’m sure they’re going to be pissed. They’re going to want to try to come out hard. Their game is they just want to play hard for 60 minutes. It’s going to be a hard game for sure. But if we play our game and everybody does his job, we could be in good shape.”
Defenseman Tyson Strachan started his NHL career with the Blues before moving on to Florida. He’ll be making his first trip back to St. Louis since moving to the Panthers when the Caps come to town.
“I’m excited,” says Strachan. “Obviously last year with the lockout, we didn’t go out west at all. It’s exciting. There are still a lot of guys there that I spent a lot of time with, a lot of years. I have a lot of friends in the area. They’re a great team, it’s a big challenge and it’s exciting to go back.”
Caps defenseman Mike Green left Saturday’s game against the Islanders after the first period with an upper body injury, and Strachan absorbed a heavier workload as a result. Strachan skated 24:15 in the Caps’ 4-3 shootout win on Long Island, easily the most he has logged in any of the 14 games he has played with Washington this season.
“You always want to play here and you want to play a lot,” says Strachan. “It felt great. It’s obviously something you want to do; you want to be counted on in all situations and play big minutes. It’s always nice to contribute that way and to do it in a win obviously feels much better.”
Washington will be making its final road journey of the season without three injured defensemen. Green, Jack Hillen and Patrick Wey are all on the sidelines with upper body injuries. Forward Brooks Laich is out with a lower body injury, but he accompanied the team on the trip.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Blues have all but nailed down the top spot in the NHL’s Western Conference standings. With four games remaining, St. Louis trails Boston in the chase for the league’s Presidents’ Trophy.
The Blues are coming into Tuesday’s tilt with a two-game losing streak, matching their longest “skid” of the season. The Blues were swept in a weekend set of back-t-back games, falling to Colorado by a 4-0 count at home on Saturday and absorbing a 4-2 setback at the hands of the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday.
St. Louis has yet to go as many as three straight games without collecting at least a point in the 2013-14 season.
Halak was traded to Buffalo in the trade that brought veteran goaltender Ryan Miller to St. Louis. Since joining the Blues, Miller is 10-4-1 with a 2.15 GAA and a .915 save pct.
Since coming to St. Louis, Miller has seen more than 30 shots just twice in his 15 appearances. Miller faced 30 or more shots in 32 of his 40 appearances with Buffalo during his time with the Sabres earlier in the 2013-14 season.
After Washington’s visit, the Blues head out for a two-game road trip to Minnesota and Dallas before finishing the season with a Sunday afternoon home game against Detroit.