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Posted at 08:36 AM ET, 02/22/2012

Despite ugly loss, Capitals still in playoff race

Despite the sting of what was called an “unacceptable performance” in a 5-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Monday night, the Capitals are still very much in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Problem is, the Capitals need to start taking advantage of the fact that they’re in a weak division with a postseason berth in striking distance now, beginning with Wednesday’s game against the Ottawa Senators.

“There is chances but with effort like we have yesterday, we have no chance no matter what the standings say. Just a terrible game,” goalie Tomas Vokoun said. “It’s very disappointing, it was a good chance to make up some ground and we let it slip away. We don’t want to do that too much. Look at the standings. We are not the one who should be relaxing right now. I don’t think we were relaxing -- just everything, I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. The performance was just terrible.”

The Capitals enter the meeting with Ottawa sitting in 10th place with 63 points in 59 games played. They’re two points out of eighth, the final playoff spot, and two out of first place in the Southeast Division. Both the division crown and a playoff berth are certainly within Washington’s reach. The Capitals just have to decide to seize them before another team does.

Eight points separate eighth place (65 points) from 15th (57) in the East, which has several teams within striking distance but none playing well enough to take control of the final playoff berth and the same could be said for the Southeast. (Ottawa has created some distance from the pack fighting for eighth and sits five points ahead in seventh.)

Among the teams the Capitals are chasing, those immediately in front of them are three squads with 65 points: Florida (65 points in 58 games, first in Southeast), Toronto (65 points, 60 games, eighth in East) and Winnipeg (65 points, 62 games, ninth in East). Washington will play two games each against the Jets and Maple Leafs, meetings that will loom large in determining the team’s fate down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are clinging to the top spot in the Southeast after losing three straight. Four teams in the division are now separated by just five points with Florida and Winnipeg both at 65, the Capitals at 63 and Tampa Bay surging to 60 after reeling off three straight wins.

The way things are going now, it seems as though it could be this tight until the last week or even last game of the season, unless one team or another decides to step up. Could it be the Capitals? It’s tough to tell, but it won’t be if they have many more showings like the one on Monday night.

“You watch the standings and it’s like nobody wants it and that’s what’s frustrating, because it’s right there for us; somebody’s got to take it,” Mike Knuble said. “I still feel like we’re the group that can do it. We’re still the guys that can do it, it’s just not going right there.”

By  |  08:36 AM ET, 02/22/2012

 
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