3 Signs That the Washington Capitals Will Contend Come Playoff Time

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2013

3 Signs That the Washington Capitals Will Contend Come Playoff Time

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    The Washington Capitals are still kicking.

    After 29 games, Washington has 25 points. As a result, the Caps are in fourth place in the Southeast Division and 14th place in the Eastern Conference. But they only trail the eighth place Carolina Hurricanes by seven points and the division-leading Winnipeg Jets by nine.

    Washington is in prime position to make a move and contend for a playoff spot in the East.

    Here are three signs that the Washington Capitals will contend come playoff time.

3. Ripe for the Picking

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    Some of the teams the Washington Capitals are currently chasing in the Eastern Conference standings have faltered in recent weeks, continuing to give the Capitals hope for a late run.

    The Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning are currently ranked 12th and 11th respectively in the Eastern Conference. But both teams have gone 4-6-0 in their last 10 games, through Wednesday night. And the ninth-ranked New Jersey Devils, who are actually tied in terms of points with the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot, have gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. The Flyers, Lightning and Devils have each only earned eight of a possible 20 points over these 10 games.

    And although the Capitals have struggled recently, they have actually done better than this trio. In the Capitals' last 10 games, they have gone 5-5-0, earning 10 points. This means the Caps have gained on these three teams. If this trend continues through the end of the season, it may be the Caps making the playoffs, instead of the Flyers, Lightning or Devils.

2. Florida Vacation

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    Despite other teams practically giving their playoff positioning to Washington, the Capitals still need to win hockey games.

    And thanks to the schedule makers, that will be easier to do down the stretch.

    Over a span of five games in early April, the Capitals play the two Florida-based NHL teams a total of three times, closing out the season series with both clubs in the process.

    On April 6, the Capitals visit Sunrise, Florida for the second and final time this season as they play the Florida Panthers. Florida currently has a league-worst 22 points.

    And on both April 7 and April 13, the Capitals play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning. As of Wednesday night's games, Tampa Bay was was in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 27 points, a mere two points ahead of the Capitals.

    Thanks to this bundle of divisional match ups against inferior foes, the Capitals have the opportunity to make a late push into the playoff picture.

1. Home Cooking

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    Right now the Capitals are in the middle of a brutal road trip.

    After a stop in Pittsburgh, they flew to Winnipeg for two games in two nights, then to New York City for a matinee at Madison Square Garden.

    After one home game, they are back on the road for three more.

    But all these road games means the Capitals' schedule is back-loaded with home games.

    Washington plays six of its last eight games at home. That includes the last three games of the season.

    Through Thursday's games, the Caps were 8-7-0 at Verizon Center. If they can exert some home dominance by the end of the season, they may earn themselves a few more home games—in the form of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.