Although the Montreal Canadiens sit in last place in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals know they can’t take any opponent for granted. All they have to do is look at what some other non-playoff teams have done recently: In the past week, the Islanders beat Pittsburgh twice and Columbus dropped the Panthers.
“Any given night, they’re all battling for their jobs — the teams that are not in the playoffs,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “As an ex-player, you’re always trying to prove to management that ‘I deserve to play here, I deserve [a spot] for next year.’ So with Montreal, it’s going to be a battle. I saw last night, they worked their tails off, so we’re going to have to really work.”
While the Capitals received plenty of help Friday night when they were idle — with Pittsburgh defeating the Sabres and that aforementioned Blue Jackets’ win over Florida — maintaining control over its own destiny in this final week of the regular season requires Washington, which enters the game against the Canadiens in eighth place, to keep winning.
Already on Saturday, seventh-place Ottawa claimed a 4-3 shootout win over the Flyers that pushed it to 90 points with a game in hand on the Capitals and Sabres.
Buffalo is also in action with a visit to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are running low on goaltenders these days with injuries to James Reimer and Jonas Gustafsson.
Here are the remaining schedules of the various contenders:
Washington, 86 points, 36 regulation and overtime wins : Saturday vs. Montreal; Monday at Tampa Bay; April 5 vs. Florida; April 7 at N.Y. Rangers
Florida, 90 points, 31 ROW : Sunday at Detroit; April 3 vs. Winnipeg; April 5 at Washington; April 7 vs. Carolina.
Ottawa, 90 points, 34 ROW : Sunday at N.Y. Islanders; April 3 vs. Carolina; April 5 vs. Boston; April 7 at New Jersey
Buffalo, 86 points, 31 ROW : Saturday at Toronto; April 3 vs Toronto; April 5 at Philadelphia; April 7 at Boston.