The Washington Capitals, in the midst of a four-day layoff, are looking at their final three regular-season games as an opportunity to hone their play for playoff meetings against the New York Islanders and possibly to meet some team goals.
Thursday, the Capitals play at Hartford. The Whalers are one of the National Hockey League's hottest teams of late. They have won seven of eight, including last Wednesday's 3-1 victory at Capital Centre, but they will not qualify for postseason play.
The Capitals' final two games are Saturday in Pittsburgh and Sunday at Capital Centre against the same Penguins. Pittsburgh is a team on the brink of elimination from the playoff picture. The Penguins are tied with New Jersey, seven points behind the New York Rangers in the fight for the fourth and final Patrick Division playoff spot.
"The games really don't mean that much," said Capitals right wing Mike Gartner. "But the last two are important to us so we can accomplish a few things going in to the Islanders' series. We want to concentrate on cutting down foolish mistakes and fine-tuning our game."
If the Capitals were to win all three, they would set a team record for points (103), breaking last season's mark of 101. "We would like to try to at least get 101," said Gartner.
"Our ambition is to beat any lesser team," Coach Bryan Murray said. "We think we're a better hockey team than Hartford or Pittsburgh. Of course there will be things that we try to do in every game, work on penalty killing and power plays. Other than that, just polishing up, I hope."
But the Islanders always seem to be in the back of the Capitals' minds. "There's no question that our preparaion is looking past these three games," said Murray. "I'm hoping that we can win all of them, and by doing so, carry over the momentum into the Islander series."
Capitals farmhands have been racking up record numbers at Binghamton. Paul Gardner had five assists in Sunday's 8-4 victory over St. Catharines to set an American Hockey League record for most points in a season (126). He has scored in seven straight games. Mike Siltala scored four goals Sunday and has 42, a Binghamton record for a right wing.
Binghamton's 50 wins are the third-highest in league history, behind Cincinnati in 1972-73 (54) and Nova Scotia in 1976-77 (52). Binghamton has three games left.