Friday, April 4, 2008

All 92- or 94-Point Teams Are Not Equal

Well, it’s pretty simple now (in a complicated way): if the Caps win on Saturday we get to breathe in the post-season. We at DCO share the maddening frustration of loyal Caps fans everywhere when we say: how in the F&%$ is this team not securely in either the division lead or a comfy fifth or sixth playoff spot? That’s six wins in a row and 10 of 11. If not for that non-Rookie-of-the-Year-having Chicago Blackhawks team taking advantage of a road-trip-weary Caps team waaaaaay back on March 19, we’d have a straight-up 11-game winning streak on our hands. With such a streak, it’s positively criminal to not see the Caps with a little “x” or “y” next to their name in this morning’s standings.

They do have those 92 points, though, same as Boston and only two behind Ottawa’s 94. The Caps are worlds better than either of those teams. Remember when the Capitals consistently beat up on Ottawa before it was fashionable to consistently beat up on Ottawa? Those were the days of the Senators’ record-breaking start to the season. That’s when Washington racked up its season series sweep of the apparently hapless Sens. Since then, of course, the rest of the NHL has enjoyed knocking them around and threatening their playoff livelihood, but the Caps did it first. Thus they are the superior team: one surging upwards towards a post-season run instead of flailingly grasping at a slipping-away playoff spot, hoping to carry just enough inertia to get swept in the first round.

The Bruins? They just flat-out stink. Why are they even in the playoff conversation? That’s actually an easy question to answer: overtime losses. They’ve got 12 of them. They had that gift-wrapped 5-on-3-rich 2-1 victory over the Caps that prevented, at the very least, a 13th OT loss. They excel at giving up 19 goals over a three-game stretch. They lost to the Senators when nobody was losing to the Senators. Like I said, they stink. Let’s hope for some sort of definitive regulation resolution to tonight’s Boston-Ottawa game. That sets the stage for a Capitals playoff berth sometime around 9:30 Saturday night. Simple. As simple as Craig Laughlin’s postgame analysis: “I’m tired of scenarios. I don’t care about scenarios. If the Caps win against the Panthers they’re in the playoffs.” Well put.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the other inferior 92-point team: those irritating, won’t-go-away Carolina Hurricanes. Whoever wins the Southeast will be subject to at least some derisive “Southleast” commentary to go along with the fact that the division champ, the #3 seed, will have fewer points than some teams seeded lower. Of the two remaining contenders for Southeast supremacy, only one has been playing at a consistently unworthy-in-the-eyes-of-the-rest-of-the-East clip for the entire season. That would be Carolina. They’ve acquired their 92 points with regular stretches of mediocrity, taking full advantage of what we’re told is inferior competition in the Souteast. The Caps, on the other hand, have been playing at a blistering 100+ point pace since that wondrous November day when Bruce Boudreau came into our lives. It’s a pace that, had it started on October 5 instead of November 23, would have long-since relegated Carolina to the afterthought they should be this season.

Finally, we’d also be remiss if, in this discussion of afterthoughts, we didn’t mention the ninth-place Philadelphia Flyers. All we need from them is a regulation loss, of which they are perfectly capable against New Jersey or Pittsburgh (anyone feeling utterly dirty for rooting for the Penguins lately?). Then not only is Philly out (completing their own little collapse of sorts), they lose their quasi-battle with the Caps for the “Most Improved Team” mantle. They might technically have a greater points improvement, but in playoffs vs. no playoffs, playoffs wins. And while the Caps put together their ever-improving squad on the rock-solid and built-to-last foundation of wise drafting and prudent free agent signing, the Flyers house of straw/cards/whatever is constructed on the flimsy and costly base of $10 million, underachieving, -22 mistakes.

Bottom line: get ready to think playoffs for real come Saturday night. After all the disappointment the team and we fans have endured in scoreboard-watching lately, hoping for just that little bit of help from somebody, at last the wins have piled up enough to make at least one of the many playoff scenarios become reality.

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