He doesn’t want his team’s dwindling playoff hopes to consume his entire life, not like it did when he was younger, before he had a wife and a 3-year-old daughter to worry about. Trips to the park often provide a distraction, and he usually doesn’t even bother paying attention to other NHL games.
But there he was Sunday afternoon, stewing in front of the television in silence as the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of three teams Washington must pass to qualify for the postseason, beat the New York Islanders, 4-0.
He tends to “bottle” his anger, and Carmen Brouwer knows better than to console her husband when he’s complaining and “a little grouchy about where we are in the standings.”
This, to Brouwer’s dismay, is a reality all of his teammates must embrace now.
“We know we still have an opportunity to make the playoffs, but when you have to leave a lot of your chances to other teams . . . it’s a little gloomy in here,” he said Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington.
Washington has just four regular season games remaining, and a loss Tuesday night in St. Louis could very well make the final three irrelevant. If the Capitals lose to the Blues, Detroit earns at least one point in its matchup with Buffalo and Columbus wins in any fashion against Phoenix on Tuesday, Washington would miss out on the NHL playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
And there’s little doubt inside and outside the locker room that these Capitals will need something of a miracle to extend their season beyond Sunday’s finale against Tampa Bay at Verizon Center.
Entering Monday night’s games, Washington had just a 1.7 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, according to sportsclubstats.com. Even with four straight wins to close the season — a feat the Capitals have accomplished just twice so far this season — Washington’s chances of playing in the postseason only rise to 36.2 percent.
Columbus occupies the last wild-card spot in this year’s Eastern Conference playoff field, four points ahead of the Capitals, who also must jump New Jersey and Toronto in the standings. With just 25 regulation or overtime wins this year, Washington would lose a tiebreaker to all three teams.
Add in a game against the Western Conference’s top squad Tuesday — St. Louis enters on a two-game losing streak and hasn’t lost three straight all year — and the task at hand is daunting. Washington center Jay Beagle, for one, has avoided the standings altogether the past few days.
“It’s on our minds, obviously, all the time,” he said. “You’re on the outside looking in, and nobody likes being in that situation.”
Such grim truths have also brought reflection, and some players couldn’t catch themselves before slipping into the past tense when meeting with reporters Monday.
Brouwer talked about Washington’s home-and-home series with Philadelphia on March 2 and 5, calling the two losses “the defining moment of the season, whether we were going to be in the playoffs or not.” He compared it to last year, when Washington swept Winnipeg in two straight late-season games and eventually surged into the playoffs as a No. 3 seed after winning the now-defunct Southeast Division.
“I think that’s kind of the story,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We’re close at times to being a good defensive team. We’re close at times to being a good offensive team and close at times to being the perfect team. But not quite there. It’s hurt us a lot in a lot of games. We’ve found ways to lose too many games when normally it should be finding ways to win games that you don’t necessarily deserve.”
Coach Adam Oates mentioned last week’s deflating 5-0 loss to Dallas and how it was the “most down” this team had been since he took over before last season. But he has yet to bring up how desperate the situation now is in front of the whole roster, because “if they don’t know, shame on them.”
It’s the near misses and what ifs that eat at Oates more than anything.
“Nowadays,” he said, “you think about every one that got away.”
Alzner, like Brouwer and his coach, can’t escape these sorts of thoughts. He doesn’t want to “drive his wife nuts,” hopeful he’ll eventually take her advice and forget about the on-ice issues once he comes home for the day.
But right now, he can’t. Not when his six-year NHL career has never included watching the playoffs on television from home.
“It’s hard not to feel kind of weird walking around the streets,” Alzner said. “If I want to go to a baseball game, basketball game, you just feel weird that you’re in the position that you’re in. We’re used to . . . making the playoffs. We’re used to having a team that’s able to compete and we haven’t been nearly good enough this year.”