Dream Still Alive for Capitals

MJ LithgowContributor IMarch 26, 2008

On Nov. 21, 2007, the Washington Capitals are humbled at home to Atlanta, 5-1. After the first quarter of the season, the Capitals post a sorry 6-14-1 record, their worst start to a season for 26 years.

For much of the season, the only way the Southeast division was going to be represented in the playoffs was via its winner, which is guaranteed a top three seed. Just about all season, Carolina has sat atop the division, and, at this stage, don't look like budging, as they have lost just once in regulation in their last 10 games.

Taking those two factors into consideration, it makes it all the more remarkable that Washington is knocking on the door for a playoff spot.

Seventh-placed Philadelphia and eighth-placed Boston should take notice—the Capitals have a huge chance to leapfrog one, if not both of those teams.

Presently, the Flyers have 88 points with five games to play. The Bruins have 86 points with six games to play, and the ninth-placed Capitals have 84 points with five games remaining.

Admittedly, the Flyers and Bruins have their destinies in their own hands, and the Capitals need some help in the final two weeks.

But have a look at the schedules, and Washington has some big helpers. Let's look at the remaining games for Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington:

Philadelphia: @New Jersey, @New York Islanders, @Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Pittsburgh.

Boston: Toronto, Ottawa, @Buffalo, @New Jersey, @Ottawa, Buffalo.

Washington: @Tampa Bay, @Florida, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida.

With all due respect, who has the easiest run home?

Philadelphia will struggle in the four games against the Penguins and Devils, both of which are contending for the Atlantic division title and Eastern Conference title along with Montreal, and their road trip to Long Island may prove to be a tricky one.

All the Islanders can do now is try and cause roadblocks for their fellow divisional teams, and they managed to do so in their last game, beating the Penguins 4-1 and beating New Jersey 3-1 about a week ago. So the Flyers will most likely win two, and, at best, three games out of those five and finish with 92-94 points.

Boston should be able to dispose of Toronto on home ice, but the other five games will be tough.

Trips to Buffalo, New Jersey, and Ottawa will require Boston to play at their best, ending at home against Buffalo could make or break the Bruins. They will start favorites in only two of those games, but, depending on which Boston team shows up, they could very well come up empty in all six games. Two wins would give them a total of 90 points.

Washington plays four of their last five against teams out or just about out of playoff contention.

Two games against East-worst Tampa are two the Capitals will be penciling in, two very winable games against Florida, one home and one away, but facing the surging Hurricanes will be tough.

However, it will be on home ice, and the Capitals beat the Hurricanes in their last encounter two days ago. They could go off the sheet from here on out, but will likely drop at least one game. Four more wins give the Capitals 92 points.

If the scenarios unfold like this, then the Capitals will displace Boston for eighth, or maybe even both Boston and Philadelphia for seventh.

Whatever the case, it's going down to game 82, and I, for one, will be intrigued in how it all unfolds for the Capitals. Their playoff dream is without doubt still alive.