By Dan Steinberg
Friday, April 9, 2010; D02
The last time the Washington Capitals played a game, they were facing their arch rivals in their last regular season appearance at the Igloo in Pittsburgh, with the Penguins still scrapping desperately for playoff position.
Now they come home, to face Atlanta. The Thrashers have been eliminated from the playoffs. The Caps have clinched the best record in the league, and the most wins and most points in franchise history. To an onlooker, it would seem like it might be hard to get up for this particular game.
"I don't think so," Eric Fehr said. "They're gonna try hard, we're gonna try hard, and it's gonna be a hard-fought game. That's just the way hockey players are. We don't ever take games lightly."
"Any time you play in the NHL it's not tough to get up for it, that's for sure," Jason Chimera agreed. "It's a privilege to play in this league. I think a lot of young guys on that team are playing for positions next year, and you don't want to be lackadaisical in the playoffs, else you can get burned in the first round."
Of course, some things are obviously different. Starters are being rested all over the place. Friday's scratches seem likely to include Mike Knuble, for example. And at least one player admitted that no matter what the schedule says, he's ready for the postseason to start.
"It seems like these games are not a formality, but more of a hassle than they are anything else," Joe Corvo said. "I think everybody's ready to go. I think there's a lot of expectations, and I think everybody's just excited to meet those. If you ask anybody here, you're just so excited about what the end result could be that it's tough to stay calm sometimes."
("You said it's a hassle?" Shaone Morrisonn asked Corvo with a laugh. "That's Joe, though. Joe's different from other guys."
I told "that's-just-the-way- hockey-players-are" Fehr about what Corvo had said. "Ask Canadian hockey players," the smiling Fehr responded.)
And while Corvo joked about meeting up with the Atlanta players before the game and instituting a "no hitting" rule, he said that Coach Bruce Boudreau has been adamant that his team must continue to win.
"Bruce specifically does a good job of just kind of expressing that we play a certain brand of hockey, and we want to win every game, and that's how we should think of it," Corvo said. "Like, nobody beats us, just have that mentality as motivation."
If that's not enough, there's always this: The Capitals opened their existence with a two-game road trip in the fall of 1974. They came home with an 0-2 record, having been outscored 12-3. By mid-November, they were 1-15-2.
That was a big hole to dig out of. It took 'em more than 35 years, as a matter of fact. Tuesday's win, according to the Caps media relations folks, ran Washington's all-time regular season record to 1,214-1,214-303-71. Sure, we're counting overtime losses as ties here, but it still looks a lot like .500. Which means Friday's game offers the first chance since 1974 to get on the right side of .500.
And if that's not enough, several players emphasized that bad things happen if you drop even a smidge of intensity. Injuries. Mishaps. Something.
"It's just bad karma, it really is," Fehr said. "You take a game lightly, something will happen, something stupid. So you just don't do it. It's not superstition, it's karma. It's totally different."