There’s no mistaking the significance of the Capitals’ matchup with the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
Directly competing with each other for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Washington and Buffalo will enter the contest tied in points (84), and to the victor goes the opportunity to pull ahead.
“It’s an exciting time of year, obviously a very important game and guys know this,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “We had a good showing last night against Minnesota but we’re playing a pretty tough team that’s playing really well. We feel that this is going to be a very big determination whether we’re going to make the playoffs, that game tomorrow night.”
Sunday night following the Capitals’ 3-0 win against Minnesota, Coach Dale Hunter went so far as to say the looming matchup with Buffalo is “like the seventh game of the playoffs.”
Of course, win or lose, both the Sabres and Washington will play five more games to close out the regular season, but the sentiment is easily understood.
For the Capitals in particular, Florida’s inability to pull away means that the top spot of the Southeast Division is still in reach. The Panthers sit three points ahead of Washington but have a game in hand, and the teams meet in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
“It’s a big game, obviously, for us, but we’ve got more games left after that,” Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff told The Buffalo News. “It’s not the end of the world, but we know we need to play well.”
Regardless, the ability for either the Capitals or Sabres, who are 18-5-5 in their past 28 games, to knock their closest opponent backwards in the standings and benefit themselves is important to both teams both for the sake of the standings and their collective confidence.
“Every one means a lot,” winger Mike Knuble said. “There’ll be a tomorrow after it, but it’s a game we want to have and it’s a game that I think every guy in our room is looking forward to playing.”