Each player on the Washington Capitals’ roster is well aware of the daunting challenges they face to reach the playoffs.
With 20 games left to play after Sunday’s 5-3 win against Buffalo, the Capitals have 25 points. They trail eighth-place Carolina by six and Southeast Division leading Winnipeg by seven heading into a pivotal week on the road.
Washington travels to face Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh on Tuesday, faces their immediate foe the Jets in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday and then visits the New York Rangers, who are trying to get into playoff position themselves, on March 24.
“It’s biggest week for us. How we going to play this week, we can end the season this week or we continue to fight for the playoffs,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We have to see what’s in our side and we have to see what’s going to happen situation when different teams going to play, Carolina, Tampa and Winnipeg as well.”
As Ovechkin mentions, Washington needs some help from teams in front of it. It’s far too early to tell if two teams from the Southeast will qualify for the postseason but at this stage, to challenge for any playoff spot the Capitals must win and win often.
“It’s pretty much must-win now till the end of the year,” Mathieu Perreault said.
They can’t afford another stretch like the past six games where they’ve gone 2-4 but instead need to reel off consecutive victories. They hope defeating the Sabres, a team with similar standing but that is already preparing for a sell-off at the trade deadline, can provide some momentum.
Translating the positivity from one win against a struggling team into victories against opponents like the Penguins or the Jets, who are hungry for their first playoff berth since returning to Winnipeg, is another matter.
“It important for us to get this win, and I think we came out with a purpose. If we move our feet and press the puck like we did today, we’ll create turnovers and create better reads for the guys behind, and that’s what we did today,” Mike Ribeiro said. “But it’s over and I think we need to realize that and move on to the next one. Obviously Pittsburgh’s not an easy team, but in the few games that we play against them, we were able to have good starts but then kind of undisciplined a few times. We’re going to need a 60, 65 [minute] game against them.”