A win over the Flyers tonight would allow the Capitals to clinch a playoff berth, but so would a loss by the Carolina Hurricanes, who host the Ottawa Senators. Even if they were to claim a victory and tie Philadelphia with 96 points, though, the Capitals remain in second place in the Eastern Conference standings because the Flyers have played a fewer number of games.
If the Flyers win, it will become increasingly difficult for the Capitals to have the chance to win the conference. Coach Bruce Boudreau said he wants to win, but not because he cares about the title.
“It didn’t help us last year,” Boudreau said of claiming the top spot in the conference. “We just want to make the playoffs. Anybody that’s worth anything wants to be as high as they can go, as far as athletes are competitive by nature and they want to be number one, but if it doesn’t happen it’s not going to be a death knell for us. It’s quite an uphill climb. When you think of how many games are left, and Philly’s already got a two point lead with two games in hand, it will be a pretty tough climb as it is.”
Washington faces a Flyers squad that will be without its most vocal and veteran leader in Chris Pronger, who is out three to four weeks following surgery to repair his broken right hand. In the five games without Pronger thus far, the Flyers are doing more than just getting by — they’re 3-0-2.
Philadelphia may miss Pronger’s game presence both on the ice and in the locker room, but his absence is not wreaking havoc on its defense, which has the depth to endure the injury and still present formidable opposition to the Capitals.
“They move the puck, they’re active, and for the most part they’re pretty big back there. Their top guy is out but their defense is solid, one through six,” Brooks Laich said. “They all play very good games and that’s fun to play against, especially as a forward like myself. I like playing the down-low game and Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, I think the strength of our team is the strength of our forwards below the circles. This is a good matchup and a good challenge.”
The Flyers’ defensive pairings, according to what was available this morning, should be Andrej Meszaros-Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen-Braydon Coburn, Nick Boynton-Sean O’Donnell.