At this point, Washington just hoping to make playoffs, while Boston seems like a lock
There is a new coach, a different style of hockey and a handful of players who were not even on the roster last spring.
But when the Capitals host the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night at Verizon Center, it still will be a rematch of a thrilling Stanley Cup playoff first-round series that ended with seventh-seeded Washington celebrating a Game 7 overtime goal to shock the defending champions and end their season far earlier than expected.
The Caps would love a second chance. With just 28 games left in the regular season, they remain in 14th place in the Eastern Conference and six points out of the final playoff spot. They are now eight points behind the Carolina Hurricanes, who lead the Southeast Division and hold the automatic No. 3 seed. That's a difficult road, but at least they enter the Bruins game with a solid 3-0 win in Winnipeg on Saturday under their belts. That wasn't a given after a disastrous 4-1 loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday.
|Bruins at Capitals|
|When » Tuesday, 7 p.m.|
|Where » Verizon Center|
|TV » CSN|
"I'm glad we [rebounded]. I was a little worried before the game because [Winnipeg] has been playing good hockey," Washington coach Adam Oates told reporters after his team's practice Monday morning at Kettler Iceplex. "They are a good hockey team and another tough environment. The guys came out and played a very solid hockey game."
Now can the Caps (8-11-1, 17 standings points) find a way to put a game like that together against one of the conference's better teams? They are 4-10-1 against top-10 teams in the East. They are 4-1 against the bottom feeders. That has to change fast if they want back into the playoff mix.
Boston (14-3-2, 30 points) has been near-dominant this season and is not in first place in the Northeast Division only because of the stunning start by Montreal, which didn't even make the playoffs last season. But the Bruins remain formidable. They entered play Monday ranked first in penalty killing (91.1 percent), fourth in goals against (2.2) and eighth in goals scored (2.9).
"I'd assume so, but I don't think that energy will benefit them in any order," Washington goalie Braden Holtby said to reporters after practice. "I think the biggest benefit to hockey games is how well you can focus, and if we just focus on our game, on the fact that we need to play a very sound game against a very sound team in order to get two points, I think that's going to pay off more than their emotion from losing those hockey games."
Holtby would know, of course. Oates told reporters Monday that Holtby again will start against Boston -- his 10th in a row overall. It was during that playoff series that he made a name for himself. Holtby was brilliant against the Bruins with 233 saves on 248 shots for a .940 save percentage. Joel Ward scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 to stun the TD Garden crowd and lift Washington to the conference semifinals.
"There can be some carryover, but it's also [Boston's] fourth game in six nights. They had a physical game [Sunday against Montreal]," Oates told reporters. "I'm sure we'll talk about it. I know the guys are aware of it, but it's also a long way away. It was a long time ago, and we need to play good hockey and get our two points."