Posted March 26, 2012 on
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Impressive as the Buffalo Sabres' two-month charge out of the cellar and into the playoff hunt has been, defenseman Robyn Regehr knows their job is far from complete.
The Sabres remain on the outside looking in and now have a recharged Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals standing in their way in a critical late-season showdown at Washington on Tuesday.
''Well, we haven't done anything yet, really,'' Regehr said after practice Monday. ''It's another step tomorrow.''
That doesn't mean he and his teammates aren't excited to be in this position after they were essentially counted out in January. Appreciating how much adversity - questions of character, a rash of injuries, including coach Lindy Ruff's three broken ribs, and a franchise-worst road skid - the Sabres have already overcome, Regehr had difficulty quantifying how significant the game against the Capitals is.
''I think to call it a big game is an understatement,'' Regehr said. ''There's just so much on the line.''
The mood is no different in Washington. The Capitals were already looking ahead to facing Buffalo shortly after they nudged the Sabres out of the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot with a 3-0 win over Minnesota on Sunday.
''It's going to be like a playoff game,'' Jason Chimera said. ''Both teams need it and it's going to be a fun game to play in.''
Though the two teams' playoff fates won't be decided on Tuesday, the winner will earn an edge in a race that's expected to continue over the final 12 days of the season.
Both teams enter Tuesday with 84 points and six games left.
The Capitals (38-30-8) also find themselves in the race to win the Southeast Division title, sitting three points behind Florida.
The Sabres (37-29-10) have much more at stake.
With 30 regulation/overtime wins, the Sabres are at a disadvantage because the three teams immediately ahead of them - Florida (31), Ottawa (33) and Washington (36) - have more non-shootout wins: the first tiebreaker in determining seeding.
''I don't think I need to sell anything (to the players),'' Ruff said. ''They know where they're at. They understand where we can get to and how big the two points is.''
Desperation has been the status quo for the Sabres ever since they woke up Jan. 24 to find themselves alone in last place in the East. Starting with a 2-1 shootout win at New Jersey that snapped a 12-game road skid, Buffalo's gone on an 18-5-5 run and begun resembling the team that opened the season with a high-priced payroll and the playoff expectations to match.
In going 7-0-2 in their past nine, the Sabres are relatively healthy. After missing as many as nine regulars in November, they're now only down three.
Their once popgun offense has found a spark.
Rookie forward Marcus Foligno has six goals and four assists in eight games since being called up from the minors. And Cody Hodgson has finally found his groove. The rookie center has three goals and three assists in four games, after registering no points in his first 10 since being acquired in a trade with Vancouver.
And then there's goalie Ryan Miller, who has returned to playing at an elite level after struggling in dealing with the aftereffects of a concussion and neck injury he sustained in November.
Miller's gone 13-1-3 in his past 17, a stretch in which he has three shutouts and allowed 31 goals.
''It's been an interesting journey, full of all kinds of different emotions and challenges,'' Miller said of the team's turnaround. ''I think, considering where we were, I'm happy with the point we're at now. But it's a checkpoint along the way. It's not where we want to end up.''
The Capitals have also faced adversity.
After starting out 9-2, they went into a 3-9-1 tailspin during which coach Bruce Boudreau was fired and replaced by Dale Hunter. They've gone 26-21-7 under Hunter, though are 2-2-2 in their past six.
It's been an up-and-down season for Ovechkin, who has a team-leading 36 goals and 61 points, but is in jeopardy of finishing with a career low in points.
Ovechkin has started heating up, with seven goals in his past five games, and 10 goals and 12 points in his past 10. That's a big jump over the six goals and 10 points he had in his previous 15.
''It's night and day,'' forward Mike Knuble said of Ovechkin. ''All the guys are happy things are going well for him because that means we're all going to do well.''
AP Sports Writer Joseph White, in Washington, contributed to this report.
BEST OF MAXIM
For the last four year Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals have been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In fact, they’ve placed first the last two years, preceding with a second-place finish in 2009 and a third-place stop in 2008.
Alexander Ovechkin has registered seven goals and one assist in the last five games, but it may be too little, too late for the Washington...
Lindsey Czarniak of ESPN with a feature on Alex Ovechkin.
Red-hot Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist and the host Washington Capitals climbed into a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.Braden Holtby turned aside 28 shots for his first shutout of the season and third of his career as the Capitals won for only the second time in six games (2-2-2).Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault...
Tonight’s Buffalo game is near-playoff action in March. Dale Hunter even said it’s “like the seventh game of the playoffs.” [Caps Insider, RMNB]
Alex Ovechkin has scored nine goals in the past seven. [Caps Insider]
Nick Backstrom is practicing, but not yet ready to play. [Caps Insider]
This Crosby-Ovechkin job may be the worst jersey foul ever. [RMNB]
Braden Holtby’s car...
Alex Ovechkin continued his recent resurgence with his ninth goal in seven games, and the Washington Capitals pulled back into the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with a 3-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.
Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perrault also scored, and Braden Holtby made 28 saves in his fourth start of the season as the Capitals broke a two-game skid to move...
I've blogged about ESPN's lack of NHL coverage in the past and also the issues of programming Sunday Night SportsCenter, typically the most jam packed SportsCenter that airs all week.
With all of this in mind, I found myself totally taken aback when Sunday night's SportsCenter jumped into nearly nine full minutes of NHL coverage. Leading off was a reshowing of a "...
I can't wait for the Battle Royale thats about to go down in Washington on Tuesday night!
Alex Ovechkin is fully engaged in the process of running down a playoff seed. AO now has 9 goals in his last 7 games.
The Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres are now tied for eighth place in the East, as a result of their 3-0 skunking of the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night.
They filled two very different roles Sunday night, but Alex Ovechkin’s and Braden Holtby’s roller coaster seasons both hit high points against the Minnesota Wild.
Ovechkin had the crowd chanting his name at least twice, once stopping a Wild breakaway on a Caps’ power play (Dennis Wideman lost the puck, the Wild took off, and Ovi came flying diagonally across the ice from the...
By JEFF BARTL,
The Minnesota Wild's most recent defeat hurt the Washington Capitals' chances of earning one of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spots.
They can do further damage with a victory Sunday.
Slumping Washington looks to avoid another letdown when it hosts the Wild, who have lost four of their five all-time visits to the nation's capital...
Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin was named the NHL's First Star of the Week on Monday.
Malkin collected five goals and four assists over a four-game stretch. With 97 points, Malkin sits 10 ahead of Tampa Bay Lightning stud Steven Stamkos and 11 ahead of Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was named the league's Second...
Thirteen days remain in the regular season and there are some key games that could decide playoff spots and seeds. Here are the five contests that will impact these races…1. Buffalo at Washington, March 27The eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference will likely come down to two teams: Buffalo and Washington. They will play each other this Tuesday night in D.C....
Here we are again.
The Washington Capitals returned to their winning ways on Sunday evening, knocking off the Minnesota Wild inside Verizon Center by a final score of 3-0. Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault, and Alex Ovechkin all scored for the Capitals, who are now back in eighth place in the Eastern Conference after falling out of the playoff picture Saturday while sitting idle...
NEW YORK (March 26, 2012) – Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller and Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin have been named the NHL’s ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending March 25.
Continue reading "Stars Of The Week"