Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 3/15/12

The Capitals have suddenly won four games in a row after sputtering for most of the second half. This streak comes at the perfect time, as they hunt down one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.

Things sure haven’t come easy for the Washington Capitals. Despite finishing in top spot of the Eastern Conference in each of the past two seasons, the 2011-12 version of the Caps are a far cry from those high-flying, high-scoring teams of yesteryear.

They’ve fired their coach. Their much-maligned superstar has struggled mightily. And the team’s overall inconsistency on the ice now has the Caps fighting for their playoff lives down the home stretch. It could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to them.
The Capitals (36-28-6), who currently sit in eighth place in the East, and just behind Florida for first in the Southeast Division, are starting to get hot at the right time. They’ve won four straight, their last coming against their old Patrick Division rivals the New York Islanders – an improbable 5-4 come-from-behind victory - capped by Alex Ovechkin’s knockout blow, a third period tally which completed the comeback from an early three-goal deficit.
Ovechkin, whose leadership has justifiably come into question this year, appears to finally be finding his stride. His two-goal effort against the Isles marked his first multi-goal game since Feb. 7. He kicked off the winning streak by scoring the OT winner in a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay on Mar. 8. Proof that as goes Ovie, so go the Caps. So, if his recent on-ice success is any indicator, the Caps, led by their 26-year-old captain, may just be ready to follow suit when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Apr. 11.
But winning in the playoffs? That’s a different story altogether.
The Caps have claimed the title of perennial playoff chokers, a result of back-to-back futile showings as the one-seed the past two years. And while Bruce Boudreau may have lost the team when management decided to fire him on Nov. 28, he never won when it mattered most either. If new head coach Dale Hunter can manage to stay out of the way of his top talent, most notably Ovie and Alexander Semin as they potentially round into form, then a renaissance could be in order in D.C.
Ironically, it could very well be Washington who enters as the eighth-seed this time around, with a chance to surprise – or even upset – a few of the favorites in the East. There’s not the same pressure or expectations this time around. As the Caps hope to prove, sometimes the skate fits better sitting on the other foot.
Yes, there’s still an awful lot of work to be done if the Capitals are going to qualify for the postseason, a team that’s by-and-large been awful on the road this season. And that’s exactly where the Caps find themselves currently, in the throws of a five-game road trip, which began on the aforementioned positive note on Long Island.

Washington’s road record (13-18-3) is among the worst in the East. Although, to their credit, it’s getting better all the time. The team has won their last three away from the Verizon Center, a timely bit of momentum considering the tough tests that await them, including upcoming visits to Winnipeg, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia. It’s make-or-break it time now for the Caps. The team will need to work harder and come together more than they have all year for the season to be saved.

Consider it a springboard for future spring success.


Photo credit: Getty Images
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