The Washington Capitals have ventured to the western fringes of the National Hockey League as they continue a road trip that has heightened their hopes of achieving a playoff spot.
"If we don't play .500 hockey on this trip we might as well say goodbye to the playoffs," said their 21-year-old captain, Ryan Walter.
Walter scored two goals Friday night as the Capitals defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 6-3, on the second stop of the five-game trip.
Two nights earlier, they had tied the Red Wings, 2-2 in Detroit.
"These are the first steps," said Walter. "Three out of four points is a good start."
The Capitals will have three days to enjoy California sunshine before they meet the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
Walter thinks the black cloud that hangs over the Capitals may be drifting away.
"Sometimes I see Mr. (Abe) Pollin, our owner, looking out above the Capital Centre to see if there really is a black cloud there," said Walter.
"This may sound like a poor excuse, but every time this team starts to win, we get hit with a rash of bad injuries."
Hence, the black cloud.
By winning, the Capitals joined the Colorado Rockies in a 19th-place tie in the 21-team National Hockey League standings. It was their first victory in their last seven road games.
Walter's second goal defused a Winnepeg comeback attempt early in the third period. It came only 13 seconds after the Jets had reduced the Capital's lead to 4-3.
Capital Coach Gary Green was impressed with goalie Wayne Stephenson, who turned aside most of Winnipeg's chances.
"You need that goaltending. He gives us leadership on and off the ice. I can't say enough good things about him," said Green.
Winnipeg Coach Tom McVie, a former Capital coach, said the first period was the key to the contest.