Barring a series of miraculous events, the Capitals are going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Washington has made six consecutive postseason appearances, tied for the fourth-longest active streak in the league entering this season. But the Capitals could be eliminated from playoff contention as early as Tuesday night.
A regulation loss to the Blues combined with a Blue Jackets victory against the Coyotes and at least one point for the Red Wings against the Sabres would mathematically eliminate the Capitals.
“It’s hard not to feel kind of weird,” defenseman Karl Alzner said of the Capitals’ current predicament. “The years I’ve been here, we’re used to making the playoffs, used to having a team that’s been able to compete. We haven’t been nearly good enough this year.”
Two weeks ago, Washington’s playoff chances were buoyed by an impressive 2-0-1 road trip through California. It was a weeklong display of what defenseman John Carlson recently called “the best hockey we have [played] in years.”
The Capitals, however, immediately followed that with five straight losses.
“Our execution wasn’t overly stellar,” forward Troy Brouwer said of the skid. “We’re on the California trip, I don’t know whether [it was] fresh in our minds that we need to win this trip to get into the playoffs, but we were clicking. Passes were on the tape, guys were out there having fun and enjoying playing hockey.
“And then when we came back, it just didn’t seem to work anymore.”
A 4-3 shootout victory against the Islanders on Saturday slightly brightened the gloom within the Capitals’ locker room, but their situation is no less grave. Even an undefeated record in their final four games would far from guarantee them a playoff spot.
“I think if anyone’s not urgent,” goaltender Braden Holtby said, “we’re not going to have a chance.”