All of the games matter now, thanks to the red hot Capitals. Washington has won six straight and is 8-1-1 in its last 10 games. The Caps now have 46 points, and are first in the Southeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference Standings.
But of the Capitals' final seven games, which matter the most?
Here is a list of the three most important games remaining on the Washington Capitals' schedule, in chronological order.
There are two priorities high on the list of any team gasping for success during the NHL regular season:
- Score big on the road trips.
- Smoke the finest opponents.
Thankfully, this will be the Capitals' last road game of the season. But the Canadiens currently have 57 points in the Eastern Conference standings, one point ahead of the Boston Bruins for the best record in the Northeast Division and five points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
When the Caps and Canadiens meet, Montreal could very well be the best team remaining on the Capitals' schedule, depending on how often the Habs and Bruins pass the Northeast Division lead back and forth between themselves.
On April 9, the Capitals played the Canadiens in this same arena. Washington caught fire in the second period, and held on as Montreal's comeback fell short. Come April 20, it will be high time for the Capitals to fire up one more strong performance before they hit the road. Do that, and the Caps will be flying high on their way back to DC for the final three games of the season.
Ondrej Pavelec and Michal Neuvirth: Czech mates.
On March 21, the Caps won 4-0, behind a shutout from Braden Holtby. That marked the second time during the 2013 regular season that Holtby has shut out the Jets in Winnipeg, including a 3-0 victory on March 2. After the game on March 21, Jets head coach Claude Noel summed up his team's performances at home against Washington: (Associated Press)
We need to play better, that would be the first thing. We've given up seven goals in two games (against Washington) and haven't scored one. They're playing chess, we're playing checkers.
Then on March 22, the Caps put the Jets into "check" with another dominating win, beating the Jets 6-1. In their three games in Winnipeg, the Capitals outscored the Jets by a 13-1 margin.
Now, the Winnipeg Jets will be looking to turn the tables on the Capitals at Verizon Center on April 23, and perhaps make this game the turning point of their own season.
The Jets are currently second in the Southeast Division, trailing the Capitals by only two points. Plus, the Jets are only two points behind both the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders for sixth and seventh place in the Eastern Conference, respectively.
And Winnipeg sits outside the playoff picture in ninth place behind the New York Rangers due only to the tiebreaker. If the Jets can overtake the Caps for the Southeast Division lead, then that will leave the Capitals to fight with the Sens, Isles and Blueshirts for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Or the Capitals can end this game of chess by declaring "checkmate" with another resounding victory over the Jets.
On March 15, I compiled a list of the six most important games remaining on the Capitals' schedule. The final entry on the list was the April 27 game between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins. This matchup has in now way decreased in significance in the month since then.
First and foremost, this is the final game of the season. The Capitals will need every point they can get, perhaps just to make the Eastern Conference playoffs.
More importantly, the Boston Bruins have all but officially qualified for the playoffs. Competing with a playoff-caliber team like the Bruins will be a good test for the Capitals, and good practice in case they actually make the postseason. Because if they do, they could very well be playing these same Boston Bruins in the first round, for the second year in a row.
Another playoff series would add fuel to the Capitals and Bruins heated rivalry, formed largely by that contentious series last April. So far, the season series has shown the same elements that made the playoff series so compelling.
The game on March 5 at Verizon Center started as a Boston blowout, but the Capitals came from three goals down and won 4-3 early in the overtime period. This was exactly like the playoff series, as four of the seven games went to overtime, and all seven games were decided by only one goal. It is the only seven-game series in NHL history to achieve that feat.
The game on March 16 at TD Garden was not close, however, as the Bruins won 4-1. But it sure was nasty. There were three fights in the game, including two fights only eight seconds apart. The first of those was between Mike Ribeiro and Brad Marchand, two of the biggest brats in the NHL. It was the first fighting major for Ribeiro since he played in the QMJHL, 14 years ago. And to put the game in perspective for the Washington Capitals, the team only has 14 fighting majors for the entire 2013 regular season.
This testiness reminds both Capitals and Bruins fans of incidents from last April's playoff battle, such as Nicklas Backstrom cross checking Rich Peverley in the face and Karl Alzner calling Milan Lucic a crybaby.
There's no telling which of these elements will be present in the Capitals' game against the Bruins on April 27. But the Capitals certainly hope this game continues to remind them of last season's playoff series, specifically Games 2, 4, 5 and 7.