Washington’s victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday night was significant for a few reasons.
First off, it was a statement win over a Metropolitan division rival – after conceding the first goal, Washington scored five unanswered and walked away 5-1 victors. Secondly, it was essentially a four-point game in which the Capitals picked up two points for their playoff push, and also held another wild-card contender pointless. With the win, the Capitals improved to 71 total points on the season which is five points behind New York, who currently hold the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
That’s the good news: Washington made up ground in a playoff race that was in serious doubt after going 2-7 in the month of February. They also got some help from around the NHL as the Buffalo Sabres (also somewhat in wild contention) lost to the Rangers and the Florida Panthers lost in overtime to Winnipeg.
The bad news, perhaps, is just how difficult the remainder of the regular season will be for Washington.
The Capitals have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league, headlined by two clashes against the New York Rangers, two more against the Islanders, then single bouts against playoff teams in Tampa Bay, Boston and New Jersey. Of the 15 games left for Washington, six will be against teams firmly in a playoff spot as things stand, five against teams in the wild-card race, and just four against teams who are likely to be eliminated from postseason contention.
Back to the good news: the Capitals look to be, slowly but surely, finding their rhythm. They’ve gone 4-3 in their last seven contests after enduring a six-game losing streak in February.
Saturday’s win over New York was marked by another splendid outing from starting netminder Darcy Kuemper, a spreading of offensive wealth (eight different point scorers on five goals), and defenseman Rasmus Sandin continuing his torrid streak since arriving at the trade deadline. Sandin has notched eight points in his first four games as a Capital. Anthony Mantha might’ve gotten a monkey off his back as well, as his tally ended a 19-game goal-less drought.
Simply put, Washington still has their work cut out for them over the final 15 games of the regular season. The Penguins and Islanders hold the final two wild card spots as things stand with 76 points apiece. Florida follows them with 73, then Washington comes in with 71. Even if Washington continues to win, they’d need some help from elsewhere in the NHL to keep those teams at bay.