NEWARK – There was silence in the visitors’ dressing room at Prudential Center on Friday night as players shoved pads into their equipment bags and zipped them shut forcefully in a mix of anger, disappointment and bewilderment.
No, the Washington Capitals have not been mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, but after their 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils here it sure felt like it.
“I don’t know,” Coach Adam Oates said when asked how this loss would impact the players emotionally. “Obviously the guys are going to be bummed out. I’m proud of them because they left it on the line. It was a big game and they played hard, great bounce back from the [5-0 loss to Dallas Tuesday].”
If the Capitals (81 points) win their five remaining regular-season games, they could squeak in – SportsClubStats.com gives them a 40.9 percent chance if they do so. But they’ll need help to leapfrog the three teams in front of them, Columbus (85 points), Toronto (84) and New Jersey (82).
“We know that. We put ourselves in this position and we’ve got to do the best we can to make sure we get into the playoffs,” Nicklas Backstrom said, brushing off any positives about the way the Capitals played in New Jersey. “Right now it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the points. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t pull it off, at least one point but I think it’s important that we really dig down and make sure we get those two points tomorrow. We need – we have to.”
Washington must now find a way to shrug off this fifth straight defeat in time to come through with a strong outing at the New York Islanders on Saturday at 5 p.m. if they want to keep any hope alive. It will be a challenge, but one the Capitals insist they won’t shrink from.
“We have no choice. We have to. We’re all pros here. Guys make a lot of money to play this game and you have no choice but to get back up and go,” Jason Chimera said. “With a little help we’re still in it. We’ve still got some games left. It’s a big game and you want to have it but if you keep playing like that you’re going to give yourself a chance to win.”