Monday, March 26, 2012

It's like a Game 7

After practice this morning at Kettler Capitals IcePlex, Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter uttered seven words that capture the course the Capitals season has taken.

It's like the seventh game of the playoffs.

Hunter is referring to the Capitals home tilt tonight with the Buffalo Sabres; a contest that features the two teams currently seeded 8th and 9th in the Eastern Conference standings.

Washington and Buffalo enter the game with 84 points each with the Capitals owning the tiebreaker by having more regulation and overtime wins then the Sabres.

Each team has six games remaining including tonight's matchup, so a loss by either team would not immediately kill either teams hopes of making the playoffs.

However, considering the expectations coming into this seaosn brought on by four years of playoff disappointments and the acquisition of five proven veteran players in the offseason, a loss to the Sabres on home ice this late in the season won't do the Capitals any favors.

Plus, with three of their final five games on the road in Boston, Tampa Bay and New York, the Capitals can't afford to give up anymore points at home.

Capitals General Manager George McPhee brought in Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun for games like tonights.

After crumbling in the playoffs for four straight years, McPhee knew the Capitals needed some grit and leadership asserted into his line up.

That grit will be put to the ultimate test tonight. Of the five, only Troy Brouwer and Roman Hamrlik are likely to get sweaters for the contest. Joel Ward and Vokoun are still out hurt, and Halpern has been a healthy scratch several times this month including Sunday against the Minnesota Wild.

Considering how well Alex Ovechkin played pulling double duty Sunday, don't be surprised if Halpern is, again, watching the game from the friendly confines of the Verizon Center press box.

Since winning their first seven games to start the season, the Capitals have dealt with adversity in a myriad of areas. They've endured a coaching change, long-term absences of both Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom, plus long scoring droughts from both Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

They've also overcome a win a few, lose a few pattern to somehow be right in the playoff hunt on March 27.

The Capitals have their destiny in their hands and at home just like they did in 2008, 2009 and 2010 when they dropped Game 7's at home to the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens.

It's like the seventh game of the playoffs?

You bet it is.

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