It's hard to imagine the Capitals making a Stanley Cup playoff push after their disastrous 2-8-1 start to the season without the help of their Southeast Division rivals. Carolina led the division for much of the lockout-shortened season before imploding thanks to a rash of injuries. Florida, last year's division champ, was even harder hit. Tampa Bay underachieved all season and eventually fired coach Guy Boucher.
Those teams now sit as the conference's three worst teams. Carolina, whom the Caps face Thursday at Verizon Center, is 1-12-1 over its last 14 games. Winnipeg is the one team that has kept pace with Washington, which is 9-1-1 since March 21.
"[The division] has been our saving grace this year," goalie Braden Holtby said. "It's been lucky that we've got to play those teams so much, but at the same time we've done a [good] job with them, and we haven't taken a lot of those games lightly because we know how important they are. So we're looking to continue that."
The Caps are 12-3 against Southeast opponents and have games left against Carolina, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg. Tuesday's win on the road at Montreal, the second-best team in the conference, provided a needed jolt of confidence that Washington can compete with the elite teams heading into the postseason.
"We've had some struggles against teams in our conference that are ahead of us," forward Troy Brouwer said. "We have to try and find ways to win against those teams. And especially win on the road because if we have to go into a seven-game series where we're the visiting team, then we got to find one way to steal a game."
- Brian McNally