As of March 25, the Washington Capitals have booked their trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for this season.
After a loss last night, the Panthers currently have eight games to play and a possible 16 standings points available. At this time, the Panthers are also 16 points behind Washington, and with the Capitals holding the first few possible tie-breakers, the Caps have now reached the magic number.
So now that our beloved Caps play the waiting game to find out their first-round opponent, what is in store for them?
I'd like to say, rest up the big guns, like Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and playoff veteran Sergei Fedorov. Though facing the first losing, or sub .500, month of 2008-09, the Caps should put the throttle down and start winning some games.
I'd like to see them compete a bit more, drive to the net a lot more, create more plays, and send the NHL a message that says loud and clear: "We did not peak in February."
The Caps need to mop up the next two weeks and not let those traditionally strong playoff teams come into their house at the Verizon Center and take a series.
Who do we the fans want in the playoffs? Well, any true Caps fan would say Carolina, the New York Rangers, or Montreal. The ghosts of the past would warn against a first-round matchup against Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, as those memories are mostly horrific.
If the Caps can get their collective act together, and win down the final stretch, I would not be afraid of any Eastern Conference team.
First and foremost, the defense has to play bigger and stronger and be more mobile. Also, the penalty-kill has got to make a big difference.
The Capitals must get secondary scoring from the ice cold guys like Tomas Fleischmann, David Steckel, Viktor Kozlov, Matt Bradley, and even tough guy Donald Brashear. Relying solely on Ovie, Semin, and Mike Green will not bode well in the playoffs. Neither will just scoring power-play goals.
The Caps must win five-on-five battles, out-hit their opponents, and, dare I say, get better goaltending from Jose Theodore.
That's it, Caps fans. We're in the show now, weeks ahead of last season's nail-biting and hand-wringing. What our team does from here on out will dictate the level of play into mid-April. It is time to unleash the fury and be ready for a battle.
Let's go Caps!