Going the distance


Jason Chimera, left, is one of several forwards fighting to be on the Washington Capitals’ postseason roster. Chimera helped his cause with the winning goal in overtime against Columbus last week. (Rob Carr/GETTY IMAGES)
April 4, 2011

Washington Capitals winger Jason Chimera wasn’t happy he had the view he did last Tuesday night, high above the ice in the Verizon Center press box.

A healthy scratch, Chimera was missing his first game of the season. As an 11-year veteran, he knew that the final few contests of the regular season are, in effect, auditions for spots on the third and fourth lines in the postseason.

Watching from above wasn’t helping him make a case.

As the game unfolded below, Chimera figured he might as well get what he could out of the situation. He saw the action slowed down compared to the fast pace on the ice. He observed the movements and the positioning and soaked in any details he thought might improve his game.

“The game’s so much slower up there,” Chimera said. “It’s amazing all the time you think you don’t have out there, and then you kind of realize the time you have. It’s different way up there, that’s for sure; the game’s a whole lot easier when you’re up there critiquing.”

The final three regular season games, beginning Tuesday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, serve as a chance for a group of six forwards to prove they belong in the lineup when the playoffs begin next week.

With 15 healthy forwards and only 12 places in the lineup, there is a need to play well to earn one of the final spots.

Among the candidates are Chimera; veteran Matt Hendricks, a healthy scratch on Saturday in a win over Buffalo; and Eric Fehr, who was scratched Thursday against Columbus.

This, of course, is contingent on the forwards remaining healthy.

Alexander Semin received a maintenance day on Monday to tend to past injuries, Coach Bruce Boudreau said, adding that there is a “chance” the Russian winger might get one of the final three games off to rest.

Each of the Capitals’ forwards brings different qualities, and the first-round opponent may dictate which players find their name left off the whiteboard come the morning of the game.

Fehr might be the best choice against bigger, faster teams.

Hendricks might be the choice if the team is in need of someone who can drop the gloves against a more physical opponent.

Chimera’s speed might set him apart.

Other decisions between similar players like veteran Matt Bradley and 25-year-old Jay Beagle will likely come down to who is most in form.

“I don’t look at it like a competition; I look at it as who is playing better in certain times, and they’re going to get the opportunity to play in the game,” Hendricks said. “Obviously you want to play well, you want to continue to play well so you stay in the lineup. But at the same time, it’s all about what’s most necessary for the team to win. What type of role a player is, what he does for the team, how he benefits the team, all these things play a role in the coach’s decisions.”

Those decisions, however, aren’t set in stone, Boudreau said. Though he may start the playoffs with one lineup, it doesn’t mean he’s not open to rotating players if the results dictate such a move.

Over the next six days, players will make their final push to earn a spot. Some have already started to respond.

Two days after sitting out, Chimera scored the winner in overtime of a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that traded him to Washington last season. It was his first goal since Feb. 4 and one he scored from a spot he said he had seen the puck constantly find its way to two days prior, when he was watching from above.

It was a statement not only to the team that shipped him to Washington, but also to a franchise that just two days prior had all but told him he needed to produce again.

“No matter how much you don’t want to be sitting out,” Chimera said. “I think you’ve got to take the positive out of it and just pick up on some little things that help you out.”

Capitals notes: Boudreau said defensemen Mike Green (concussion) and Tom Poti (groin) will not make the trip to Toronto but that he’s hopeful one of the two will be in the lineup prior to the start of the playoffs. . . . Defensemen John Erskine, who missed a game after suffering an undisclosed injury against Columbus on March 31, Tyler Sloan and Sean Collins will travel with the team. Sloan took part in the full practice on Monday and said that he felt good after being hit in the head and jaw by Buffalo’s Cody McCormick late in the second period. “We didn’t want to push it,” Sloan said.

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