Are the Caps saving the best for last again?


Dustin Penner and the Caps earned five points on their three-game West Coast trip. (Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Capitals’ postseason hopes have been bolstered by last week’s successful trip through California. Considering their knack for flourishing down the stretch, such a streak should not come as a surprise.

Washington earned five out of a possible six points in the three-game road trip to keep themselves entrenched in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Last season, the Capitals won 15 of their final 19 regular-season games. Two seasons ago, they won 10 of their last 16. Even as far back as 2008, they have had a tendency for saving their best for last. That year they won 11 of 12 to clinch their first of six straight playoff appearances.

“We know how much is at stake and how important the playoffs [are],” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s for everybody’s jobs. If you don’t make the playoffs, then usually there’s some changes that go on. When we know what’s at stake, we seem to rise to the challenge.”

What binds those streaks together is the fact that the Capitals’ place in the postseason each year was far from assured, just like it is this season. As of Monday, Washington was one point out of the wild-card race with 10 games remaining.

The Capitals are 4-0-1 in their past five games — one of their strongest stretches of the season. They have jumped out to early leads, shown a willingness to play an uglier style of hockey and have shaken off costly mistakes.

That has led to an attitudinal shift in the locker room and the return of a “swagger” that Alzner said the Capitals have become known for.

Brimming with newfound confidence and a renewed focus, the Capitals are prepared to finish strong once again.

“We like to prove people wrong,” forward Eric Fehr said. “We’ve continually done that. People have counted us out of the playoffs a few times and we found a way to sneak in.”

Adam Vingan is an NHL.com Washington correspondent, the Capitals beat reporter for Express, and writes Capital Games for NBC Washington.

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