The Washington Capitals’ regular season finale against Boston on Saturday night means more than it would appear on the surface. Both teams are currently locked into the playoffs, yet Boston is still jostling with Montreal for the division. This gives the Bruins a reason to bring it on Saturday night, but I would argue that the Caps have just as much to play for in this game.
Fresh off a loss to Ottawa, the Caps need to send a message to the rest of the conference playoff teams that they can play with any of them. This is the burden that comes with cruising through the worst division in hockey. Doubt is going to come from all over, especially when the Caps are struggling like they are against their potential first round opponents. Boston wouldn’t clash with Washington until at least the second round, but with the recent history between these two teams, plus the fact that Boston plays a similar style to Ottawa, means that Washington should have every intention of not taking this final game lightly. The Caps need to prove to themselves that they can persevere against grinding, defensive style teams in order to build on their all important confidence as they head into the postseason.
Similarly, Boston also is, like Ottawa, the type of team that likes to mix it up after the whistle. The B’s have plenty of guys that get under the skin of their opponents. For that reason, these players don’t need to be named. Caps fans and hockey fans all over the world know exactly who they are. Again, beating a team like this on the eve of the Stanley Cup playoffs would really benefit this Caps club.
Chuck Gormley, Caps reporter from www.csnwashington.com, reports that after Thursday night’s game Senators defenseman Eric Gryba said to a local reporter, “see you guys next week,” referring in a snide way to the looming potential of a first round clash between the two squads. The Caps would be wise to heed that message and take it out on Boston. Ottawa was probably creeping into the minds of the Caps because of their play, but now they are trying to do so using their words. Gryba has provided perfect bulletin-board material, and the Caps need to use it to their advantage. Make Gryba eat his words, and make Boston pay for it as well, just because they stand in the way.
Multiple Caps players mentioned during Thursday night’s postgame that frustration was a factor in the loss. Well, they need to get that out of their system immediately, or at least hide it, because it is music to Boston’s (and Ottawa’s, and every other playoff team’s) ears. Nothing is more appetizing for a team than getting to play a team that is letting frustration get the best of them. It just makes it too easy for good teams.
The Caps need to learn their lesson from Thursday night’s game, and then discard it from memory. They need to return to the confident team they’ve been for the last month, and they need to be ready to lock horns with that rugged group from Boston. If they don’t, it could be another short spring season for hockey in D.C.