The importance of each pair of points available to the Capitals cannot be overestimated at this point in the season, what with 34 games left to play and them holding a tenuous lead on first place in the Southeast Division.
Despite the absence of star players thanks to injury and suspension , the Capitals found a way to earn a 5-3 victory Boston Bruins, who sit second in the East and first in the Northeast Division with 64 points. Now Washington heads into the All-Star break in third place in the conference (the Capitals’ 55 points are tied with Florida, but they have 26 wins to the Panthers’ 22).
Back-to-back games against Tampa Bay and Florida will be their first games once the season resumes next week and also the final two games of Alex Ovechkin’s suspension. Those points will be critical, and while the Capitals would rather not be without Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) and Mike Green (sports hernia) for long stretches, it may help galvanize the group in the meantime.
“I think that we can do it,” defenseman Karl Alzner said when asked about winning the next two games. “I think we have a really good team, even without Ovi. We all looked at the roster at the beginning of the season and said this is a good lineup up and down, top to bottom. I think it helps a little bit; the guys pick up their game that much more to chip in. They’re getting a minute to three minutes extra ice time because Ovi’s not in. I think guys really did it well, by committee tonight.”
The absence of so much skill can also force the Capitals to play a simpler game. That doesn’t always come naturally, as referenced by the team’s propensity to look for the perfect play too many times. With a straightforward dump-and-chase, just worrying about making the correct, easy play, it can allow the group to function more as one unit.
“When guys get their opportunity to move up in the lineup they’re going to bring that third, fourth line mentality, where we get pucks deep,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “We’re not trying to be quite as skilled. And you could see that [against Boston]. We were trying to use their defensemen as much as we could, tire them out. [Zdeno] Chara’s a big man out there, but tried to be physical on them. And everyone played well and everyone stuck to the game plan.”
Not to mention that the ability to play well without quite the same star-studded lineup is a confidence boost for everyone in the room.
“It was huge for us. It shows the character of this team. We battled really hard [against the Bruins],” said Mathieu Perreault, who notched his first career hat trick in the victory. “Even though we miss these guys, we stick together, we stick to our game plan and put out a great effort.”
More from Post Sports:
— Hamilton: Ovi wrong to skip All-Star game
— On Mathieu Perreault’s first hat trick
— Perreault hat trick lifts Caps to 5-3 win
— Capitals send Cody Eakin to Hershey
— Ovechkin won’t attend All-Star game
— Thomas addresses White House snub