Throughout the course of the truncated 2012-13 regular season, the Washington Capitals haven’t always helped themselves. They’ve left some points on the table here and there to be sure, but they’ve also received a fair amount of help from the out-of-town scoreboard.
That was the case last night, as the New York Rangers defeated Winnipeg and the Carolina Hurricanes suffered a road loss to the Canadiens in Montreal.
“It’s a good feeling,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “It’s nice to finally see some wins paying off that we’ve had. A few weeks back, when we did win games everyone else was winning games. It’s nice to know that we have a little bit more control over our situation. We’re happy with the situation we’re in now. It could be better, but we’re happy to have a chance.”
On this fine, sunny spring Tuesday in Raleigh, the Capitals awakened to something new, namely their divisional destiny. Although they still trail front-running Winnipeg by four points and are even with Carolina, the Caps have control of their destiny the rest of the way. If they win the games in hand they hold on Winnipeg, win the games they have remaining with Winnipeg and Carolina the rest of the way, and then just match whatever the Jets and Canes do otherwise, the Capitals will lay claim to the 2012-13 Southeast Division title and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs that comes with it.
The first of those games the Caps must win in order to retain control of their Southeast destiny is tonight in Raleigh against the Hurricanes.
“That’s the way you have to look at it,” says Caps center Mike Ribeiro. “You come to play the game and think about your team and not hope for other teams to lose. We have to focus on our games, and we have 13 left. You take them one at a time, and tonight is a huge game in the division. We need those points.”
One of the main reasons the Caps have put themselves in a strong position as they head into the final quarter of the season is their play on the road. Washington dropped each of its first five road games this season (0-4-1) and it held a 3-7-1 road mark as it approached a daunting stretch of schedule in which it played nine of its next 11 on the road. That stretch ends tonight in Carolina, and the Caps have posted a solid 5-2-1 mark in the previous eight road tilts during that span.
“We’ve been playing a lot more solid game, simple game,” says Ribeiro of the Caps’ recent run of improvement on the road. “We stick with our game plan throughout the 60 minutes and I think that’s the biggest difference on the road. We have better starts; we just come out focused and just play simple. That’s the goal. We chip the puck when we have to and we get it out of our zone when we have to. We’re not trying to make the cute play or the nice play, it’s more simple and we just stick with the game plan.”
The rugged road run began here in Raleigh with a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes on March 14, and the Caps are hoping to bookend it with another two-point effort tonight.
Washington will play eight of its final dozen games this season in the friendly confines of Verizon Center, where the Caps are a very ordinary 8-8 thus far this season.